Sunday, August 12, 2012

Rotini with Summer Vegetables and Goat Cheese

(Listening: Stefano Bollani : Stone In The Water )

It comes as no surprise that there is dish like ratatouille. A quick look around a farmers’ market right now and you will see everything you need to make it: tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onions, garlic, and basil. Necessity (dinner) is the mother of invention (use what you have at hand).
For a recent dinner, I combined all of these vegetables into a sauce for pasta. Enriched with a little goat cheese and grated Parmesan, it was a forkful of summer. I’m not usually one who insists on using a specific pasta for a recipe (yes, I do know some work better than others at times) but this sauce is perfect for rotini. The sauce coats the noodles and gets into the corkscrew-like edges.
Since eggplant soaks up a lot of oil when it cooks, I roast it in the oven until it softens and then toss it into the rest of the vegetables. Use any fresh, ripe tomato for the sauce.
Often the vegetables for ratatouille are cooked separately but that’s not necessary here.
If the sauce is ready before the pasta, set the pan aside while you wait for the pasta. The trick is to eventually be able to time everything to be ready at the same time, but that’s a matter of practice.

Rotini with Summer Vegetables and Goat Cheese
For four servings: Figure ½ to 2 ounces dried pasta per serving.

8 ounces rotini pasta
1  medium-sized eggplant
1 medium-sized zucchini, about 1 ½  cups diced
1 cup chopped onion
½  cup red bell pepper, diced
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
2 cups tomatoes, chopped
red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
4 ounces goat cheese
3 to 4 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Olive oil, for cooking
Salt and ground black pepper

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Peel and dice the eggplant into ½” sized pieces, there should be about 2 cups of diced eggplant. Place the eggplant into a bowl; season with salt and black pepper and drizzle with 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil. Mix to combine. Place the eggplant in one layer on a baking pan lined with a piece of parchment paper or a silicon mat. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until it begins to soften.
2. While the eggplant is cooking, place a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Swirl 2 tablespoon olive oil into the pan. Add the onion and bell peppers and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes to soften. Add the zucchini; season with some salt and pepper. Ladle about ½ cup of the pasta water into the pan. Cover the pan and lower the heat to a gentle simmer.
3. When the eggplant has roasted, remove it from the oven. Place the eggplant into the pan with the vegetables. Add the garlic and stir. Add the tomatoes and the chili flakes, if using, along with the basil. Season with salt and ground black pepper and stir in 1 or 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Cover, lower the heat and simmer to break down the tomatoes, about 5 minutes. Set aside the pan.
4. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water as directed until al dente. Drain the pasta.
5. Return saucepan to the heat. Add the rotini to the pan. Scatter the goat cheese and grated Parmesan cheese over the pasta and stir to melt the cheese and coat the pasta. Divide the pasta  between four bowls. Drizzle with a little extra olive oil and serve. Ah, summer!

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