My first full weekend back in Cork found me on a wee road trip to West Cork close to the Beara Peninsula hanging out on a caravan site within walking distance to a main village in Allihies. This was an essential part of Cork that I missed out on visiting last time, and I am eternally grateful to Naomi and Ruth for giving me this wonderful little getaway. I’ll write more on the weekend later, but here is a sneak peek of what my weekend was like:
On our second day my hostess, after a busy afternoon of kayaking with friends (and a lot of Tatler magazine reading for me!), whipped up a gorgeous pasta dish with tomato sauce & aubergine (eggplant) and we also munched on gorgeous red peppers that she charred on the grill. I’m not usually one for peppers and only thought I’d take a bite to polite, but after that first piece I was hooked and had to stop myself from running off with the bowl of fresh roasted peppers drenched in olive oil.
When I returned home I knew I wanted to replicate the dish and make it my own somehow. Try as I did to look for plain old red Anaheim peppers I just could not find them, so I opted for small sweet peppers instead. I made the peppers a few days ahead of adding them to the sauce, but I didn’t notice a huge difference in the richness of the taste so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend marinating them in oil unless it was especially flavored, or the kind of pepper that gets better with a little aging.
Still, this recipe does take quite a bit of time so do allow yourself at least two hours.
Pasta with Aubergine and Roasted Peppers
1 large can of peeled, no-salt added plum tomatoes (I used 28 oz)
1 medium sized eggplant, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 lbs roasted peppers (instructions to follow)
1 large shallot, diced (alt: 1 small sweet onion)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 shot of good red wine
fresh oregano, chopped (I put in about a tablespoon)
fresh Italian parsley, chopped (I put in about 1.5 tsp)
pinch of garlic powder
pinch of red pepper flakes
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
quality Parmesan cheese
Italian parsley, for garnish
Charred Red Peppers:
Ideally you would have an outdoor grill or some sort of manageable outdoor fire unit to handle this task, but if you’re like me and do not, charring the peppers in the oven works just fine as well.
Preheat your broiler.
Lightly coat with oil (olive, grape seed, etc) enough peppers to place on a baking sheet in a single layer. Place the sheet as close to the heating element as you can without setting your entire kitchen on fire (like I almost did). Broil the hell out of them, occasionally turning so all sides get nice and blackened.
After you remove the peppers from the oven, place them in a paper bag and hurriedly roll it up to trap in the steam. When they’ve cooled enough to be manageable, peel off the charred skins, hack off the stems and remove the seeds.
Place in a nonreactive bowl and set aside. Can also be placed in a jar and refrigerated a few days ahead of time.
Add some olive oil in a large, deep skillet and begin to saute your aubergine.
After each piece is well coated and has slightly softened, reduce heat just to medium-low and add the shallot/onion and garlic. Continue to saute, stirring occasionally.
In a nonreactive bowl place the tomatoes, juice and all. Roughly break up the tomatoes with your hands before adding it all to the skillet.
Give it all a good swirl, add some red pepper flakes, 1/2 of the oregano, pinch of garlic powder, red wine, and if you are so inclined, a pinch of salt. Incorporate well, cover and allow to simmer.
I allowed mine to simmer for a good long while – about 45 minutes. I then added my roasted red peppers and cooked/drained penne to the skillet and stirred it about, adding the remainder of my freshly chopped oregano and more black pepper to taste.
You could theoretically add your cheese to the sauce directly, being mindful to stir it in small batches so it doesn’t clump, but I prefer to use the finer blades of the cheese grater and have a pile of soft, delicate cheese snow atop my pasta – complete with fresh parsley to garnish, of course.