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Farm Fresh: Eggplant, pasta beautiful partners

Thursday, August 29, 2002

By Betsy Kline, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Unless you've grown up eating eggplant, chances are you've admired it for its curvaceous aubergine beauty but never tried it.

Truth is, we hadn't either, unless you count eggplant Parmesan, in which the vegetable is virtually unrecognizable swathed in so many other wonderful flavors.

Eggplant plays a starring role in today's recipe, in which it is baked and then combined with caramelized sweet peppers and onions and pasta for a delicious entree. In fact, don't worry if you overbake the eggplant, because its creaminess just adds to the lusciousness of the dish. Fresh basil is a must -- do not use dried.

Penne With Provencal Eggplant And Sweet Peppers

  • 2 medium-sized eggplants, unpeeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 cup olive oil, divided
  • Salt
  • 2 medium-sized onions, sliced
  • 3 red, green or yellow sweet peppers, thinly sliced (we used one of each to make the dish colorful)
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • 1 1/2 cups firmly packed chopped fresh basil
  • Fresh basil leaves for garnish, optional

Place eggplant cubes in a shallow baking dish, toss with 1/2 cup of the olive oil, sprinkle with salt to taste and bake in a 400-degree oven until cubes are soft but still hold their shape, about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a large, heavy fry pan. Add the onions and sweet peppers and cook over very low heat until vegetables are quite tender and slightly caramelized, about 35 to 45 minutes. Stir in garlic and salt and pepper to taste; cook 5 minutes more.

Combine the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, lemon juice, herbes de Provence and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk and reserve.

Cook pasta in 4 quarts boiling water until al dente. Drain and rinse well in cold water, then drain again. Toss in a large bowl with onion mixture and reserved dressing.

Toss eggplant cubes and chopped basil with pasta. Garnish with basil leaves. Makes 6 to 8 first-course servings; 10 to 12 salad servings.

"Cold Pasta" by James McNair

Betsy Kline can be reached at bkline@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1408.

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