Summer Eggplant Pasta with Red Pepper and Tomato
Growing up, my parents would take me for a birthday dinner at the restaurant of my choice. From fourth through eighth grade, my pick was Macaroni Grill. Unlimited focaccia, free dessert, and an opera singer that would serenade me with “Happy Birthday” in Italian—what more could a 10-year-old (or 11 or 12-year-old) wish for in her birthday meal?
I haven’t been back to a Macaroni Grill since middle school, and honestly it’s still so perfect in my mind, I see no reason to spoil the memory. In those days, my pasta desires gravitated to the alfredo-side of the menu, but today, I much prefer lighter, seasonally-inspired pasta dishes like today’s simple Summer Eggplant Pasta.
I’ve made this eggplant pasta for Ben and myself so many times, it was almost hard for me to write down the recipe. I’m usually a to-the-letter recipe-direction follower, but this eggplant pasta recipe is so flexible, it was hard for me to pick a single version to share here. Sometimes (as in today’s version) I throw in a red pepper, others I’ll toss in spinach or kale, and still others I’ll swap olives for capers. The recipe non-negotiables are fresh lemon zest, which brings the eggplant pasta to life, and either olives or capers, because they add an extra flavor dimension that makes it addictive.
To keep this eggplant pasta quick and easy (the entire meal is ready in less than 30 minutes), I opt for a jarred tomato basil pasta sauce, but you can certainly use a homemade sauce if you prefer, or even replace the sauce completely with generous bunch of fresh tomatoes, sautéed right along with the eggplant. As always, I recommend using whole wheat pasta instead of white, because it is an instant way to make any pasta recipe healthier (fist pump for extra fiber and protein!), without adding to its prep time.
With this light and lovely Summer Eggplant Pasta only 30 minutes from my table, I don’t feel tempted to order Italian take out. If, however, Macaroni Grill would like to send someone over to sing a little table side opera, I’ll gladly enjoy my dinner to the tune of Figaro.
Eggplant Pasta with Red Pepper and Tomato
- 12 ounces whole wheat pasta — or gluten free pasta if needed, any shape you like (I used fusilli)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium eggplant, — cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 pound)
- 1 large red bell pepper, — cut into 1/4 x 1-inch strips
- 2 cloves garlic, — minced
- 12 ounces prepared tomato pasta sauce
- 1/2 cup olives — (green, black, or mixed) pitted and chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs — such as parsley or basil
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese — for serving
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, according to package directions. Drain, toss with a bit of olive oil to prevent sticking, and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium. Add the chopped eggplant and bell pepper and cook until just softened, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and sauté just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomato sauce, olives, salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until warmed through. Stir in the lemon juice and zest.
Stir the pasta into the eggplant tomato sauce, adding a little more of the prepared pasta sauce as needed to moisten the noodles. Served topped with chopped fresh herbs and Parmesan. Enjoy immediately.
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