Spaghetti with Ricotta, Cherry Tomatoes & Oven-Baked Aubergine
Basically, as Mediterranean as it gets.
I’m in love with this summery pasta, which combines fresh raw ingredients like cherry tomatoes and herbs, with spicy roasted eggplants, and creamy ricotta cheese. I could eat ENDLESS amounts of this!
But before we get to the recipe, I wanted to share with you some tips for cooking the perfect pasta. While making pasta seems the easiest of tasks, I often see food bloggers and even popular chefs posting their pasta making videos and making some big mistakes, so with this in mind, I've put together this simple guide to help you master the art of pasta:
1. Always cook the pasta last.
This is the most common mistake I see all the time - cooking the pasta before the sauce and then letting it sit in the colander while making the sauce. This is a big no no. The sauce should be ready before you start making the pasta, or in the case of a sauce that is ready in minutes, like pesto, you can make it while the pasta is cooking...but NEVER after. Once pasta is cooked you want to add it to the sauce immediately otherwise it will begin to stick and also get overcooked in its own steam.
I've also seen people rinsing the hot pasta in cold water to stop it from getting overcooked, and/or adding oil to it to prevent it from sticking. Please don't!! It will stick anyway, plus adding oil to the pasta is not a good idea (see my next point). Just make the sauce in advance.
2. Don't add oil to your cooking water or your cooked pasta.
Adding oil to the water, or to cooked pasta to keep it from sticking will cause your sauce to slip off the pasta. You'll also add an unnecessary amount of fat to your meal...it's really not required.
3. Cook the pasta in enough water.
Pasta has a tendency to grow in volume as it cooks, so take that into account. Using too little water will cause the pasta to stick together, as there's not enough space when it expands, and also will make it cook unevenly (the bottom is likely to get overcooked and the top will be raw).
4. Check for saltiness.
The rule for this is to add salt just as the water starts boiling, and just before throwing in the pasta. Always check for saltiness, not by tasting the pasta (as this will absorb the salt gradually) but by tasting the water. It should be "as salty as the sea".
5. Give it a stir (or two).
As soon as you drop your pasta in the water, stir it. This prevents the pasta from sticking together, or to the bottom or sides of the pot. Stir occasionally during the cooking process.
6. Always cook your pasta 'al dente'.
As you master your pasta cooking art, you'll be able to tell if the pasta is done by just looking at its colour or texture. But initially, the best way is to just read the packaging as the cooking time will vary largely, based on the pasta shape, thickness, and whether it's fresh or dry pasta.
Always drain your pasta 1 minute before what indicated on the packaging for an al-dente result - you want your pasta to be cooked so as to be still firm when bitten, especially if you then need to transfer it to the sauce pan, where it will continue to cook.
Save a ladle of pasta water before you drain and add it to the sauce - the starches accumulated during the cooking process will make your sauce extra creamy and thick.
7. Always add a drizzle of olive oil at the end.
This may be down to personal preference, but I think nothing completes a pasta dish better than a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil.
You'll most likely to have used some olive oil in your sauce already, but the taste of raw extra virgin olive oil is so much more intense. Even just one teaspoon goes a long way!
And now that you've mastered your pasta skills, without further ado, let's make this baked aubergine, tomato and ricotta spaghetti!
Ingredients (for 2)
2 medium eggplants, peeled and cut into large cubed
1 tsp smoked paprika
A few sprigs of fresh or dried thyme
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
125g fresh ricotta
2 tbsp grated parmigiano
100g cherry tomatoes, chopped
Fresh parsley or mint
Salt to taste
Firstly, prepare the eggplants. Add the cubed eggplants to a large bowl, season with the tbsp of oil, paprika, thyme and salt. Mix well to make sure they are evenly coated, transfer to a baking tray and roast in the oven to 180C for 40-45 minutes or until each piece is nice and gold on the outside and soft on the inside. The exact time will depend on how large or small you cube your eggplant so keep an eye on it.
When the eggplants are newly done, boil a large pot of water and add salt. Add your spaghetti and cook to al-dente (1 minute less than what stated on the packaging).
In the meantime, in a bowl mix the ricotta, chopped tomatoes, parsley and season with a pinch of salt and some olive oil. Stir in 2 tbsp of the pasta cooking wanter and set aside.
Drain the pasta and transfer it to the same bowl with the ricotta and tomatoes. Mix well, top with the roasted eggplants, more parsley and serve!
Word of the Day
(of pasta, cooked so as to be still firm when bitten, pronounced al ˈdɛnte)