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Penne With Aubergine, Tomato, Chilli and Feta

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Introduction

This is in one sense wholly un-Italian, and yet the inspiration for it is the traditional pasta alla Norma, which combines aubergines with ricotta salata. This semi-dry salty cheese is hard to come by in the UK and so I thought to substitute it with that supermarket standby, feta.

I also sprinkle some balsamic vinegar over the aubergine as I cook it, which counters and brings out its gorgeous earthiness. Tomatoes and chilli flakes bring brightness and zing.

This is in one sense wholly un-Italian, and yet the inspiration for it is the traditional pasta alla Norma, which combines aubergines with ricotta salata. This semi-dry salty cheese is hard to come by in the UK and so I thought to substitute it with that supermarket standby, feta.

I also sprinkle some balsamic vinegar over the aubergine as I cook it, which counters and brings out its gorgeous earthiness. Tomatoes and chilli flakes bring brightness and zing.

Penne With Aubergine, Tomato, Chilli and Feta

Ingredients

Serves: 4 heartily

Metric Cups
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion or banana shallot (peeled and finely chopped)
  • 1 clove garlic (peeled and chopped)
  • ½ teaspoon crushed chillies or chilli flakes (or to taste)
  • 1 x 400 grams can chopped tomatoes
  • 175 millilitres water
  • 1 aubergine (approx. 250g / 8oz)
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 250 grams penne rigate
  • 100 grams feta cheese
  • 1 bunch basil leaves (to serve, optional)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion or banana shallot (peeled and finely chopped)
  • 1 clove garlic (peeled and chopped)
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes or chilli flakes (or to taste)
  • 1 x 14 ounces can diced tomatoes
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 eggplant (approx. 250g / 8oz)
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 8 ounces penne rigate
  • 4 ounces feta cheese
  • 1 bunch basil leaves (to serve, optional)

Method

  1. Put a capacious amount of water in a pan to cook the pasta and put on the heat.
  2. In another pan, one in which the pasta and sauce will fit later and, even better, one which you can bring to the table to serve from, heat the oil and then add the chopped onion/shallot and let cook, stirring every now and again, for 3 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and chilli flakes and cook, along with the onion for about 30 seconds, stirring all the whilst before adding the canned tomatoes, then fill the empty can up with cold water and add that to the pan too.
  4. Slice the aubergine into 1 cm / ½ inch slices and then cut each slice into 1cm / ½ inch bits – this makes for easier, faster cooking.
  5. Now tumble in the aubergine cubes and pour in the balsamic vinegar, stir well and bring to a bubble, then clamp on a lid, turn the heat down and let simmer – not too gently – for 15 minutes, by which time the aubergine should be tender and the sauce thickened. If the pasta sauce is ready before the pasta, simply take off the heat but leave the lid on.
  6. After the aubergine has been cooking for about 5 of those minutes, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook as per packet instructions. Just before draining, lower in a cup and remove some of the pasta cooking liquid.
  7. Take the lid off the pan of sauce, and crumble in the feta, give a stir and then add the drained pasta and toss together, adding a little pasta water if you need to help everything amalgamate. Once combined, clamp the lid back on the pan and – still off the heat – leave to stand for 2 minutes.
  8. Either serve in the pan or transfer to a warmed bowl or bowls and strew with some basil leaves.
  1. Put a capacious amount of water in a pan to cook the pasta and put on the heat.
  2. In another pan, one in which the pasta and sauce will fit later and, even better, one which you can bring to the table to serve from, heat the oil and then add the chopped onion/shallot and let cook, stirring every now and again, for 3 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and chilli flakes and cook, along with the onion for about 30 seconds, stirring all the whilst before adding the canned tomatoes, then fill the empty can up with cold water and add that to the pan too.
  4. Slice the eggplant into 1 cm / ½ inch slices and then cut each slice into 1cm / ½ inch bits – this makes for easier, faster cooking.
  5. Now tumble in the eggplant cubes and pour in the balsamic vinegar, stir well and bring to a bubble, then clamp on a lid, turn the heat down and let simmer – not too gently – for 15 minutes, by which time the eggplant should be tender and the sauce thickened. If the pasta sauce is ready before the pasta, simply take off the heat but leave the lid on.
  6. After the eggplant has been cooking for about 5 of those minutes, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook as per packet instructions. Just before draining, lower in a cup and remove some of the pasta cooking liquid.
  7. Take the lid off the pan of sauce, and crumble in the feta, give a stir and then add the drained pasta and toss together, adding a little pasta water if you need to help everything amalgamate. Once combined, clamp the lid back on the pan and – still off the heat – leave to stand for 2 minutes.
  8. Either serve in the pan or transfer to a warmed bowl or bowls and strew with some basil leaves.

Tell us what you think

What 2 Others have said

  • Waitrose sell ricotta ensalata but it is quite bland in my opinion so I think the feta would work better/

    Posted by GinaS on 23rd June 2016
  • I sometimes stir fry the aubergines in a wok, before adding to the sauce.

    Posted by sadie47 on 24th September 2013
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