Eggplant is one of those vegetables that can take on a lot of different flavors and this makes it a perfect ingredient for a casserole. Undercooked and it can be tough and hard to eat, but overcooked it becomes too mushy. When this veggie is made properly though, it’s one of my favorites.
This eggplant penne is a great main dish and it’s vegetarian. But, this would also be a great accompaniment to some baked or grilled chicken breast for a more protein-rich meal. Or, I could see adding in some browned Italian sausage to the sauce as well.
To start making this dish prepare the penne to al dente and drain. You’ll want to reserve some of pasta water for making the sauce.
Next sauté the eggplant for about 4 minutes in olive oil. Depending on your pan size you may need to do this in batches. Then onto the sauce: sauté 5 cloves of garlic over medium heat and then add in the pasta water, some crushed San Marzano tomatoes, and some dried oregano and fennel seed. You can use other kinds of canned tomatoes here, but the San Marzano variety really do have a slightly brighter and more intense flavor than other tomatoes. For me it’s worth the slightly higher price because the sauce always turns out more flavorful.
I nearly always add fennel seed to my savory Italian dishes because it just gives tomato sauces (and pizzas) that European flavor that many recipes lack. But, if you don’t have any on hand or simply don’t like fennel seed then you can leave it out and this recipe will still be amazing.
Once you’ve pre-cooked the pasta and eggplant and made the sauce it’s time to assemble the casserole. Add in the pasta first, then the eggplant and sauce. Stir slightly and then top with some shredded mozzarella cheese. When it’s out of the oven you can garnish individual servings with some fresh basil leaves if you’d like.
Eggplant penne is an easy way to cook this veggie and it’s a wonderful take on the weeknight casserole. Even eggplant skeptics are bound to enjoy this one!
20m prep time
1h cook time
- 8 oz dry penne pasta
- 6 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling, divided
- 2 eggplant, cut into cubes
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small white onion, diced
- 1 28-ounce can undrained San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/8 tsp dried fennel seeds
- 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- fresh basil for garnish (optional)
- Prepare pasta per package directions to al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water. Drain and set aside. Preheat oven to 400˚F.
- In a large sauté pan heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add in half the eggplant, seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook until just becoming tender (about 4 minutes) Remove to plate and repeat cooking process for the rest of the eggplant.
- In empty pan heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat and sauté onions until just beginning to turn translucent. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add in pasta water, tomatoes, oregano, fennel, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir and cook for an additional 2 minutes.
- Pour pasta into 9”x13” baking dish. Top with sauce and eggplant and stir. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle cheese on top. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until cheese is melted and beginning to brown on the edges. Garnish with fresh basil if desired.
Recipe adapted from Food Network.