This comes from Joshua McFadden’s “Six Seasons” and, like so many other recipes in that book, is very simple, tasty and satisfying. You can sub out the real sausage with a plant-based replacement and make this a just-as-tasty vegetarian meal. Either way, the cooking in stages and separating out the different “layers” helps a great deal but does add few (easy but worth it) steps to the process.
For this you’ll need: x2 cloves garlic (peeled, crushed and roughly chopped), 1/2 lb sausage (we used a artichoke/garlic chicken sausage, sliced), 1 pint cherry tomatoes, 1 medium eggplant (cut into 1/2″ thick slices and then cut into 1/2″ wide strips), 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper, 1 Tbsp fresh oregano (stems removed and chopped), 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, 1/2-1 lb rigatoni pasta, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Prep the eggplant by cutting it into 1/2″ thick slices and then slicing those into 1/2″ wide strips. Place them all into a colander and sprinkle with some kosher salt. Toss well with you hands and place the colander in the sink to allow them to drain for at least an hour, but up to two.
In a large cast iron or other skillet heat a good glug of olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped garlic and swirl well allowing it to brown slightly but not burn – about 1-2 minutes. Add the sausage slices and toss well. Reduce the heat slightly and cook until the sausage slices are beginning to brown – about 5-6 minutes. Remove the sausage and garlic with a slotted spoon onto a plate and set aside.
Remove the eggplant from the colander onto a large plate lined with paper towels. Add more paper towels over the top and dry the eggplant slices, removing the excess salt in the process.
Add a few more glugs of oil into the same skillet and bring the heat back up to medium. Place the eggplant into the heated oil in a single layer (you may have to do 2 or 3 batches in order to fry all the eggplant) and fry each side until just browned – about 5 mins – turning once or twice to ensure even cooking. You may need to add more oil so that the pan does not dry out.
Meanwhile, start a pot of water on to boil. Once it is boiling, cook the pasta per the instructions to al dente – about 10 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, oregano, crushed red pepper and some salt and pepper to the eggplant and gently stir everything together over medium heat. Allow to cook until the tomatoes are just starting to break down to create a sauce – about 6 – 8 mins. Add in the sausage/garlic
Drain the pasta, reserving about 1/2 of the pasta water, and add it into the skillet with the sausage, tomatoes and eggplant. Toss everything well so that the pasta is fully coated. Turn off the heat and add the grated parmesan and gently stir everything together.
Place into a large serving bowl and serve with crusty bread.