Giada cooked her original version of this dish for us at the James Beard House a few years ago. It was an eggplant timbale (pronounced tim-ball-eee) which is found in her fourth cookbook. Timbales are pastas made in some kind of springform pan. It’s like a pasta pie. In this case, grilled eggplant was the crust. I’ve simplified the way this dish is prepared because not everyone has a springform pan or grill pan. A timbale looks stunning, but for practical everyday dinners, it’s easier to cook the dish in a 9×13 pan. I’ve kept most of the ingredients the same as the original recipe because it’s that good. One thing I will say about this dish is the smoked mozzarella elevates the flavors from delicious to wow seconds please. This pasta won’t taste the same with regular mozzarella. You need that smoky flavor.
Now back to dinner at the Beard House. Giada made individual mini-size timbales for each guest which was the second course for dinner. Anyways, my husband does not like eggplant. I remember Giada looking right at my husband’s untouched plate with a slight disappointment in her eye. More on this story next week and some pics from the event.
The amount of olive oil seems like a little much to saute with the eggplant, but eggplant are like sponges and quickly absorb the oil.
After the eggplant is cooked and transferred to a plate, use the same pan to cook the meat mixture. Nobody likes washing a bunch of dirty pots and pans.
This is the star of the dish right here. Fresh smoked mozzarella. The smoked mozzarella melts into the sauce, and the pecorino adds a salty bite.
Chances are you’ll be back for seconds.
Eggplant Pasta with Smoked Mozzarella
adapted from Giada’s Kitchen
serves 4 to 6
Smoked mozzarella elevates the flavors in this dish and really adds a deep, smoky flavor to the pasta. This dish won’t taste the same with regular mozzarella.
1 pound eggplant, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/3 cup olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups penne pasta
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 pound 93% lean ground beef
1/2 pound spicy pork sausage, casings removed
1/4 cup dry marsala wine
1 1/2 cups frozen peas, thawed
2 cups marinara sauce
1 1/2 cups freshly grated smoked mozzarella cheese
1 cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 9×13 baking dish.
In a large saute pan, heat 1/3 cup of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally until tender. Transfer the eggplant to a plate.
Heat a large pot of salted water over high heat. Add the pasta and give it a quick stir. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions until tender but still firm to bite. Drain the pasta.
Using the same pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for about 3 minutes until softened. Add the ground beef and sausage and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, breaking up the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon until browned. Remove any excess fat liquid. Add the marsala wine and cook for about 3 minutes until evaporated. Add the peas and marinara sauce. Stir to combine. Turn off the heat. Add the smoked mozzarella and 3/4 cup pecorino cheese. Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the meat mixture to the prepared baking dish. Stir in the pasta to coat with the sauce. Add the cooked eggplant and gently combine it with the pasta.
Bake for about 30 minutes until warmed through and cheese has melted. Remove from oven. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup romano cheese and serve.