Baked Eggplant Parmesan Rigatoni

A few weeks ago I was home and scavenging in my Dad's garden for produce. I ended up coming home to the North End with a whole pile of jalapeños, assorted other hot peppers, the rest of my favorite tomatoes... and a solo eggplant.

I never turn down fresh produce. Especially if it's free... or insanely cheap. I mean, this is how I ended up making tomato jam that one time. I don't think I've ever cooked with eggplant before this but I figured it never hurts to try things once. I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to do with this little gem but thankfully the internet happened to serve me up the inspiration just in the nick of time. Feed Me Phoebe originally intended this to be a vegetarian dish ... and not baked ... and deconstructed. Although I rarely stick to a recipe 100%, I strayed pretty far from Phoebe's intentions. I ended up adding bolognese sauce I had ... and baking it.
It should be noted that while I was making this dish, my 74 (?) year old landlord swung by and we may have legit hung out. We bought him some replacement cookware on eBay that he couldn't live without (fyi, it was from 1982), he tasted my hot sauces I had made that week, lectured me on how much bacon I eat, and installed a new smoke detector for me. He also dropped the screw for the smoke detector twice ... which resulted in me crawling around on the floor. Still. Bonding Time for Joe and Jen.

These little antidotes are evidence of how little attention you need to pay to cooking this dish. You can't really go wrong with it. You can keep it deconstructed like Phoebe did or bake it like I did. I think the only difference between them is that you some how need nearly twice the amount of sauce if you bake it (2 vs 3 cups). Also, baking takes 20-25 extra minutes maybe... but I like a little crunch and so did the rest of the my tasters. 

Here's how it goes.

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta once boiled and cook to al dente.

2. In the meantime, set a large skillet over medium heat, and add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, about 2 tablespoons. Coincidentally, I happened to have bacon grease in my pan... so I used that because obviously it was a healthier decision than olive oil.

3. Add the eggplant, onion, and salt. Saute for about 10 minutes until the eggplant is tender. Toss in the garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir and heat for about 2 more minutes. 
4. Pour the tomato sauce and chopped tomatoes over the eggplant mixture and stir to combine. Simmer for 5 minutes and taste for seasoning.

5. Add the eggplant and tomato combo to the drained pasta. Give it a mix before you add in the mozzarella. Cut about half the mozzarella as you wish before adding. Oh, and add in some chopped basil. I grabbed about 6 leaves from my fire escape and gave them a quick little chop.

5b. At this point, I kind of realized the mix wasn't saucy enough... and I worried it would dry out or just be terrible after baking. So I grabbed another random container of sauce from my freezer and quickly defrosted it. Turns out... it was my simple summer sauce that I made about a month or so ago... what a pleasant surprise.

6. Toss the whole thing into a casserole dish and top with some additional mozzarella and parmesan. Then sprinkle some panko flakes on as well... and maybe a little more cheese. You really can't have enough ... unless you are trying to be healthy.
7. Cook at about 375 for 25-30 minutes. Essentially, you just want to cook until you are satisfied with how the top looks (i.e. crunchy and cheesy)... because all of our ingredients are cooked already.

Shopping List
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2-3 cups marinara sauce or tomato puree
2 plum tomato, diced
1 pound rigatoni
8-10 basil leaves, torn
2 balls of mozzarella
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan

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