The vegetarian table has come of age. No longer the poor cousin of omnivorous eating, meatless cooking now features as much depth in spices and flavors as one expects from the best meat-loving chefs and kitchens. In Herbivoracious, author Michael Natkin’s goal was to take meatless cooking beyond the bland and “crunchy” into a realm of intense, vibrant, globally inspired flavors. This Papardelle and Eggplant Ragu recipe is paired with fresh ricotta for a perfect meal.
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Fresh pastas are most often paired with delicate sauces. But a counterexample is a rich, ﬂavorful ragu served over wide noodles like fresh pappardelle. Eggplant makes a terriﬁc vegetarian ragu, accented by bell peppers and fresh ricotta. You can also turn this into a spicy ragu by using Fresno peppers instead of red bells.
The crucial step in making this dish exceptionally delicious is to cook the pasta al dente so that its elastic bite contrasts with the melting texture of the eggplant and ricotta.
Be sure to gather all of the garnishes in advance, so that when the pasta is ﬁnished you can apply them quickly and get the hot bowls right to the table.
• 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 red onion, ﬁnely diced
• 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
• 2 large eggplants (about 3 pounds total), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
• 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper ﬂakes
• 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
• 1 red bell pepper or, for a spicy version, 3 Fresno chiles, seeded and thinly sliced
• 1 cup dry red wine
• 1 pound fresh pappardelle or other fresh pasta (preferably wide, ﬂat noodles)
• 1 1/2 cups ricotta (Calabro is an excellent brand), at room temperature, drained if necessary.
• Minced fresh ﬂatleaf parsley or mint leaves
• Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
• Grated zest of 1 orange
• Freshly ground black pepper
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Warm your serving bowls in a low (200 degrees) oven.
2. Heat the olive oil in your largest skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and garlic and sauté for 1 minute; don’t allow the garlic to burn. Add the eggplant, hot red pepper ﬂakes, and salt. Lower the heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is nearly tender, about 8 minutes. You can add a little more oil if you need to, but don’t get carried away, as the eggplant will just keep soaking it up. If there is a lot of sticking, lower the heat and add some of the red wine.
3. Add the red bell pepper and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the red wine, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet, and continue to cook until the eggplant is fully tender, about 2 more minutes. Reduce the heat to very low. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
4. Boil the pasta according to package directions. For fresh pappardelle, this will usually take 3 to 5 minutes. Scoop out 1 cup of the pasta water and reserve. Drain the pasta and toss with the simmering eggplant ragu, mixing in some or all of the pasta water as needed to achieve a light glaze on the noodles; don’t let it turn into a soupy sauce.
5. Divide the pasta among the serving bowls. Divide the ricotta as well, placing 5 or 6 tablespoon-size dabs on each serving. Top with the parsley or mint, grated cheese, orange zest, and black pepper, and serve immediately. Serves 3 to 4
Reprinted with permission from Herbivoracious: A Flavor Revolution, with 150 Vibrant and Original Vegetarian Recipes. Recipe © 2013 by Michael Natkin and used with permission of The Harvard Common Press. Buy this book from our store: Herbivoracious.
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