Pasta, Aubergine and Mushroom Bake / Pasta, Melanzane e Funghi  

Pasta, Aubergine and Mushroom Bake / Pasta al forno, melanzane e funghi

This classic pasta bake dish is loved all over Italy. It is eaten by families at gatherings or celebrations and it’s a wonderful dish to make when you are planning to feed a large number of people. A great tasting dish on its own or served with a leafy side salad with green beans and avocado.

Credit: There are many versions of ‘pasta al forno’, many of which are vegetarian. This is my vegetarian version which is typical of the Sicilian and Calabrian regional cuisine.

Ingredients

  • 3 large aubergines (675g in weight)
  • 300g conchigliette, fusilli or penne pasta shapes
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, washed, ends cut off, sliced lengthways and finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled, ends cut off, sliced lengthways and finely chopped
  • 200g Italian cherry plum tomatoes cut in half
  • 12 pitted green olives, rinsed, drained and cut in half
  • 40g of pine nuts
  • 5 tbsp. Italian tomato passata
  • 250g of mixed mushrooms e.g. portobello, shiitake, chantrelle, crimini, cleaned with a damp cloth and sliced
  • 100ml single cream or buttermilk
  • 100g vegetarian soft goat’s cheese, sliced into thin pieces at room temperature.
  • Good olive oil for cooking
  • Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
  • 3 tbsp. flat leaf parsley, stems removed and chopped finely
  • 3 tbsp. mint, stems removed and lightly shredded
  • 50g vegetarian pecorino cheese, finely grated at room temperature
  • Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper

Method

  1. Cut the aubergines in half lengthways and with a dessert spoon, scoop out the flesh in one piece. Cut the flesh into bite size chunks and put into a colander in layers, sprinkling the layers with salt. Set aside over a bowl for 20 minutes, then rinse well, and pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Pour olive oil into the base of a saucepan and gently warm, then drop the aubergine pieces into the pan and add a little ground salt and pepper. Mix the pieces well and add more olive oil if the pieces get dry. Cook until fork tender and lightly brown, about 10 minutes, set aside into a warm dish and cover.
  3. Add the pasta to 3 litres of boiling salted water and cook for about 10 minutes, or according to the instructions on the package until soft and tender. Drain, cover and set aside.
  4. Turn on the oven set to 130°C (110°C for fan ovens), Gas mark ½. Place a large deep ovenproof baking dish in the top of the oven to warm up. Turn the heat off after 5 minutes and take the dish out of the oven when needed.
  5. Meanwhile, in a sauté pan add some olive oil and heat until the oil is simmering. Add the mushrooms with a pinch of fine salt and cook, on a fast heat, for about 10 minutes stirring frequently. Cook until the water has evaporated, and the mushrooms are lightly browned. Turn the heat down to low, add the aubergine pieces to the pan, add 2 tbsp of parsley and mint and stir gently. Allow to warm through for 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside the mix into a warm dish and cover.
  6. Pour some olive oil into a large sauté pan, add the onion. Cook on a low heat, stirring often, for 5 minutes until soft. Then add the chopped celery and carrot and cook on low heat for 5 minutes more until fork tender, stirring frequently.
  7. Into the onion, celery and carrot mix, stir in the tomatoes and mushrooms and aubergine mix. Add a pinch of fine salt, stir and cook over a gentle heat for 5 minutes. The tomatoes should be loose and soft. Then, add the olives and gently mix thoroughly, followed by the pine nuts, passata and a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Finely add the cream / buttermilk and pasta and gently mix thoroughly for 5 minutes to warm through on a low heat.
  8. Remove the baking dish from the oven and transfer the contents of the sauté pan into the oven dish, spreading evenly. Spread a thin layer of pecorino cheese all over the surface then place the soft goat’s cheese slices in a single layer dotted over the top. Cook under a hot grill until the cheese has melted and golden on top, but not burnt.
  9. Trickle some extra virgin olive oil over the top and serve straightaway or let it cool to room temperature before serving.

Cooked and reviewed by DARLIENE AND GOTTFRIED (Alberta, Canada).

This is Darliene and Gottfried’s review of the pasta bake: “We enjoyed this dish for several nights. Added more tomatoes sauce the second evening. Thanks for sharing.”

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