A Perfect Pasta Cake. Yes, You Read That Right.
My redeeming qualities are few, but the one thing I do know about myself is that I have discipline. I can discipline people into the ground, but my kryptonite is Italy, where I was lucky enough to travel for work over the weekend. All my self-control crumbles within mili-seconds upon touching my foot on Italian soil. That good balanced diet I work so hard to maintain at home? Gone. All I eat when I am there was pasta, cheese, and cake. I seriously cannot help it. It’s a power larger than me. To give you an idea of nutrition, my breakfasts in Italy tend to set the tone for the day: An espresso and a sugar cookie. OK, fine, multiple sugar cookies. And all that discipline I exercise at home around fitness and staying active? That totally ceases to exist in Italy. I replace jogs with smokes, and I relish every puff of it. I even find myself joining Italians in scoffing at people who jog in the Italian streets – Who are these people?! Sorry, I am not sorry (but my lungs are kind of sorry.) I drink at lunch, I consume almost entire bottles of wine at dinner. There’s often a little voice in my head that pleads “What is happening to you? Exercise some restraint, woman!” but I usually just drown that voice in more carbs, sugar, and wine.
On the plane on the way home, I remembered that my girl crush, Debi Mazar, sent me her recipe for what is basically a pasta cake. Debi and her husband, Gabriele, call this an Eggplant & Pasta Incaciata. Now, I’ll admit that this recipe takes some work and time, but, look, sometimes in life, there are things worth summoning your patience for. This incaciata is one of them. I mean, HELLO? It’s basically baked ziti wrapped in eggplant parmesan. Does it get any better? No, it does not. Here is a very helpful video from their cooking show, Extra Virgin, that explains the steps.
When Debi connected with me earlier this year over Twitter, here was my reaction:
I have thought Debi is the best thing since sliced bread since, well, forever. I mean, do women in general get cooler than Debi? No, I don’t think so. We started talking food immediately and when she sent me this pasta cake recipe, my girl crush deepened. Debi, is it a little weird that I am declaring my love for you over the Internet? I hope not. If it is weird, I blame it on a carb/sugar/wine hangover and nicotine withdrawal. Don’t judge me.
Eggplant & Pasta Incaciata
Yield: 8-12 servings
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 45 minutes
¼ cup breadcrumbs
¼ cup grated Parmigiano cheese, divided (2 tablespoons, 2 tablespoons)
½ cup olive oil, plus more as needed
1 pound ground pork
2 cloves garlic, cut into 3 chunks each
½ cup red wine, preferably Chianti
4 cups homemade red sauce (see below recipe)
salt, to taste
freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 eggplant, medium
1 pound ziti pasta, cooked al dente
1 pound fresh mozzarella, grated
1 9” spring-form pan that is at least 3” high
softened butter, for greasing pan
salt and pepper
- First thing you’ll want to do is to make your red sauce (see recipe below). You could also buy your fave store bought variety, though don’t tell anyone I said that.
- Grease the bottom and insides of the pan with softened butter.
- Mix the breadcrumbs with 2 tablespoons of the Parmigiano cheese. Coat the inside of the pan well with the cheese mixture. Knock out any excess and discard.
- Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large sauté pan, over medium heat. Add the ground pork and season with salt & pepper and sautee until cooked through. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.
- Stir in the red wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the red sauce (recipe below) and bring back to a simmer and cook for another 5 minutes more. Season the ragu to taste with salt and pepper.
- Meanwhile, slice the eggplants lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick planks. Cook the eggplant in batches: heat the remaining oil, 3 tablespoons at a time in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the eggplant with salt and black pepper and fry in a single layer in the pan until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from the oil and drain on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. Continue with the remaining eggplant.
- Cook your pasta and combine the cooked pasta with the grated mozzarella and the ragu.
- To assemble, line the bottom of the prepared spring-form pan with a single layer of eggplant, then line the sides with the eggplant planks vertically, allowing the excess to hang over the outside. Fill the inside of the lined pan with the pasta, sauce and cheese mixture, pressing down gently. Fold the flaps of eggplant over the top of the pasta, using any remaining eggplant slices to cover the top.
- Cover with plastic and weigh it down with a plate. Refrigerate for a few hours or up to overnight.
- When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Sprinkle the top with the remaining Parmigiano and 2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs. Cover the top loosely with foil, place pan on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, then remove foil and bake an additional 15 minutes until bubbling and top is golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and let rest for 15-20 minutes and cool slightly before unmolding from pan. Slice and serve.
2 (16 ounce) can of Pelati (whole peeled) Tomatoes
4 tablespoons of olive oil
2/3 red onion, medium diced
6 cloves garlic, sliced into chunks
2 hot red chile pepper (optional)
4 handful of fresh basil, washed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- In a food processor, puree the tomatoes to a smooth creamy consistency. If you like a more country feel, you can wait and break them up in the pan later with a wooden spoon.
- Add olive oil to a large pan over medium heat. Add the onions to sauté and after they are softened, and before it actually starts browning a bit, add the garlic. If you’d like to make the sauce a bit spicy crush a red pepper to sauté with the onion.
- Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. If you did not process the tomatoes, use a wooden spoon to break them into pieces while they cook.
- Simmer on a medium-low flame for about a half hour; depending on the brand and season your tomatoes might contain more or less water. Thrive for balance in the consistency of the sauce, it has to be fluid but it should not look wet.
- A few minutes before taking the sauce off the fire, add half of the basil.
- Cook a nice al dente pasta, dress with red sauce and finish with some freshly grated parmesan, a couple of leaves of basil and sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil.