Do you ever eat dinner on the sofa while watching TV? I make an effort on most nights to sit at the table. I may scoop my food onto the plate stove-side, but I set out cloth napkins and glass tumblers with the aim of spending dinnertime catching up on the day’s events.
I really do.
But there are some evenings when I don’t want to talk. I just want to sprawl and zone out.
That’s when I want a recipe like this pasta with crumbled sausage and summer’s tomatoes and eggplant from “Milk Street: Tuesday Nights Mediterranean” by Christopher Kimball (Little, Brown and Company, 2021). The cookbook speaks my language, with ingredient combinations that make me go mmm mmm and chapters titled Fast, Faster and Fastest.
This one-pot dish is from the Faster chapter, and it took me just a touch over 30 minutes to get it on the table, with very little cleanup.
Scale and get a printer-friendly, desktop version of the recipe here.
The cookbook author writes that the dish is “loosely based on a sausage and eggplant ragu taught to us by Maria Enza Arena in Castelbuono, Sicily.” I can imagine the inspirational dish was a bit more complicated than this one, but that it was, in fact, made in the summer when ripe tomatoes and eggplant are plentiful and at their peak.
Here, you can use sweet or spicy Italian sausage removed from the casing. (Or, if you prefer, you also could make this with ground chicken or turkey or crumbled tofu, but you’d have to kick up the seasoning a bit. I’d recommend adding a tablespoon or so dry Italian seasoning or, if you don’t have that, sprinkle together a combination of dried oregano, basil, garlic and onion powder, and crushed red pepper flakes.)
You start by cooking the tomatoes. They’ll burst and release their juices, but you don’t want to stir them and make them fall apart just yet. Then, the sausage is added and cooked through, followed by the eggplant and water, which creates a flavorful liquid in which to cook the pasta. Pick a shape, such as campanelle, cavatappi, fusilli or gemelli, that can carry the thick sauce you’re making. Because the pasta cooks in the same vessel as the vegetables, there’s no need to add another hot pot for boiling water.
Just before serving, stir in a generous handful of fresh basil, and, when it’s done, spoon the warm mixture into a bowl, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and, if you have them handy, a few more torn basil leaves. Then, settle in. This is an ideal dish for eating propped up in bed, on the sofa or sitting on the stoop outside, because each forkful delivers a flavorful, comforting, saucy bite with no fuss and no mess.
Pasta With Italian Sausage, Tomatoes and Eggplant
Total time: 35 mins
Tested size: 6-8 servings
Storage Notes: Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
2 pints cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt or table salt, plus more to taste
12 ounces hot or sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
1 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
3 1/4 cups water, or more if needed
1 pound campanelle, cavatappi, fusilli or gemelli pasta
3/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1 1/2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves, torn if large, plus more for serving
Finely grated Parmesan cheese or pecorino Romano cheese, for serving
In a large pot over medium-high heat, combine the oil, tomatoes, onion and salt. Cover and cook, stirring only once or twice, until the tomatoes begin to burst, 5 to 7 minutes. Uncover, add the sausage and cook, using a wooden spoon to break up the meat and tomatoes, until the sausage is no longer pink, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the eggplant, add the water and bring to a boil. Stir in the pasta, nutmeg and pepper. The pasta should be mostly submerged in liquid. Cover, reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally and maintaining a vigorous simmer, until the pasta is al dente, 10 to 12 minutes. If it starts to look dry, add more water, 1/4 cup at a time.
Taste, and season with additional salt and pepper, if desired, then stir in the basil. Divide the pasta among the bowls, drizzle with more olive oil, and sprinkle with the cheese and additional basil leaves and serve.