Oven-baked Aubergine "Anelletti" (Anelletti al Forno alle Melanzane)
Sicilian cuisine is truly an endless treasure trove. I could spend hours, nay, days talking about the variety of influences, flavours, seasonal ingredients and famous dishes from my beautiful sunny island.
Amongst our most favourite ingredients, aubergines ("melanzane" in Italian, or "milinciane" in Sicilian) deserve a special mention. They are featured in so many savoury dishes...and some sweet (yes, sweet!) dishes too.
This is a typical Sunday lunch preparation - a particular kind of pasta shape, "anelletti" (meaning "little rings"), are prepared with a rich tomato sauce, enriched with deep-fried aubergines, then topped with cheese and baked in the oven until a crunchy layer forms.
Sundays in Italy are for gathering the famiglia around the table. Long lunches, hearty meals that vary from region to region, from city to city, and from family to family.
Pasta al forno (aka oven-baked pasta) is a common main course across many regional cuisines, especially in Southern Italy. Countless versions exist - some meaty (the most classic being perhaps with ragù), some vegetarian, some tomato-based, some white and creamy (with béchamel) - but in general pasta al forno is a lush dish to be shared with families and friends.
As for the pasta shape - anelletti is a typical, ring-shaped pasta of Sicilian origin. Nowadays it can easily be found from the main pasta brands, but it's used almost exclusively for traditional Sicilian dishes.
If you can't get your hands on anelletti, fret not - you can simply replace them with maccheroni, rigatoni, penne or other pasta shapes, so long as they are short (spaghetti aren't generally used for pasta bakes.
Ingredients (for 4)
500 g of anelletti pasta
2 medium aubergines, peeled and cubed
1 clove of garlic
250g of fresh mozzarella, cubed
200 g of grated caciocavallo cheese
400 g of tomato purée
A handful of fresh basil
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Canola or sunflower oil for deep frying
1 tsp sugar
Salt to taste
Heat the frying oil in a deep pot and deep-fry the aubergines in batches. Drain the excess oil on kitchen paper and set aside.
In a separate pan, heat the olive oil and sauté the garlic for a few minutes, then add the tomato purée before diluting with a glass of water. Season with salt, sugar, add the basil and cook over a low heat for half an hour, until the oil separates. Remove and discard thw garlic clove. Add the fried aubergines and switch off the flame.
Pre-heat the oven to 200C static. In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and throw in the anelletti. Cook for 2 minutes less than what indicated on the packaging.
Drain and transfer straight into the sauce pan. Mix well. Add mozzarella, grated caciocavallo, and transfer to a baking tray. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes or until a nice crispy layer has formed on top. Serve immediately.