A warm pasta dish is the ideal comfort food, especially with the temperature dropping drastically in the Bay Area. There are no more fresh tomatoes in our planter and I had no canned tomatoes in my pantry either. With a tomato-based sauce out of the question, I made my own creation with a buttery cream cheese base. To that, I added roasted eggplant pulp for smokiness, roasted bell peppers, button mushrooms, garlic, sage and smoked paprika to complement the eggplant.
I used Wellenband egg noodles that I sautéed with the eggplant pasta sauce and added a little pasta water to finish the dish. I found the versatile shape of Wellenband pasta very original; the ruffles hold the sauce beautifully in their ridges. I also like the nice medium size; they can be eaten in one bite, which avoids any messiness, especially for children.
Servings: 4 servings
1 (16-ounce) package Wellenband pasta (see tips)
¼ cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 large eggplant
1 cup large button mushrooms, sliced
¼ cup roasted bell peppers (store-bought), thinly sliced
1 sage leaf, finely chopped
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
3 tablespoons cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly cracked
2-½ teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
For the eggplant pulp: Preheat your oven to 450°F. Slice the eggplants in half lengthwise. Layer a cooling rack on top of a cookie sheet, then place the eggplant slices on top. Sprinkle with salt and let the eggplant aside for about 30 minutes. Pat dry with a kitchen towel. Place the 2 pieces of eggplant flesh side down on a greased baking sheet. Drizzle the top with a little oil. Bake the eggplant for about 15-20 minutes. The skin should be black and blistered. Remove from the oven, then cover with aluminum foil. Let the eggplant cool for about 10 minutes. Gather all the pulp of the eggplant and finely chop into a thick paste. Discard the skin, stem and seeds.
Cooking Wellenband pasta: Bring about 8 quarts of water to a boil. Add the pasta, bring back to a boil, then immediately lower the heat to a gentle boil. Cook the pasta for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and continue cooking for an additional 8-10 minutes. Keep stirring every now and then so the pasta doesn't stick to the bottom. When the pasta is cooked (cooked inside and out but still in shape and firm), reserve about 2 to 2-½ cups of pasta water and drain the pasta. Transfer to a large serving bowl.
Cooking the vegetables: In a saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add the garlic and cook until slightly golden. Add the button mushrooms. Sauté until softened. Add the thinly sliced roasted bell pepper. Toss well. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a plate. Set aside.
Making eggplant pasta sauce: In the same saucepan, heat the rest of the oil. Add the shallots and sage. Cook for about 6-8 minutes, until the shallots are golden and fragrant. Add the eggplant pulp and smoked paprika. Stir for about 5 minutes; the eggplant texture should become less watery. Add 2 tablespoons of parsley. Stir constantly so the mixture doesn't stick to the bottom the pan. Season with salt.
In a large non-stick sauté pan, heat more olive oil and melt the butter. Add the pasta. Using tongs, toss the pasta for about 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and a black pepper. Add the eggplant pasta sauce, cream cheese and about 1-¼ cups of pasta water. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly until the sauce is thickened. If the pasta starts sticking to the bottom, add more pasta water. Toss well for another 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and red bell peppers. Turn off the heat. Adjust seasoning.
Garnish with more parsley.
I used dry Wellenband egg noodles. You can find this particular shape at a local market called the Milk Pail Market. The address is 2585 California Street, Mountain View, CA 94040. You can replace with any of your favorite pasta shapes.
I buy smoked paprika at a local store, Crossroads World Market -720 San Antonio Road -Palo Alto, CA 94303. You can also find it online.