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Baked Penne Rigate with Smoked Mozzarella and Eggplant Tomato Sauce

Mary Anne here. This autumnal comfort casserole was actually created in the heat of summer. It’s been pretty clear here at Feast that I am in relentless pursuit of meals for Mariel that are protein-packed and vitamin-rich, quick to re-heat, and enough quantity to provide more than a one-time flash-in-the-pan dinner. This lasagna-like dish is a winner on all points.

And like most pasta/tomato based casseroles, my Baked Penne Rigate only gets better with age. After Mariel had her fill with the first couple of re-heats, we froze quite a bit of it in serving-size portions and Mariel enjoyed this over the course of two months. Score!

The sauce makes three quarts and this dish requires only about two of those quarts, so this really is a recipe for two complete and separate dinners. Use the remaining quart spooned over cooked pasta. And as you can see by the photo, the eggplant sauce is super thick and rich. Smoked mozzarella for the actual casserole is easily exchanged for the plain old Buffalo or part-skim version, but I just loved the smoky flavor in conjunction with the silky texture of the tomato-infused eggplant. It’s your call!

Baked Penne Rigate with Smoked Mozzarella and Eggplant Tomato Sauce
Serves 8

1 lb. penne rigate pasta or rigatoni – $0.99
2 lbs. eggplant, cut into 1-inch dice – $3.98
kosher or sea salt – stock
olive oil – stock
2 Vidalia or sweet onions, diced – $1.48
5 cloves garlic, minced – stock
2-28 oz. cans whole, peeled Italian tomatoes, chopped (reserve their juices) – $1.98
2 Tablespoons tomato paste – $0.89
½ cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped – $0.99
2 Teaspoons dried oregano – stock
1 Tablespoon brown sugar – stock
¼ Teaspoon red pepper flakes – stock
1 cup torn basil leaves – $1.98
6 ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped – $2.76
1 lb. smoked mozzarella, sliced – $4.49
½ cup grated parmesan – stock
salt and pepper to taste
Grand Total Assuming a Well-Stocked Pantry: $19.54
Total Per Serving: $2.44

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta just until al dente. Drain and rinse under cold, running water. Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, sweat the chopped eggplant. Sprinkle all over with coarse salt and place in a colander lined with paper towels. Place a heavy pot lid or plate weighted with heavy cans on top; allow to sweat for about an hour and then pat the cubes dry.

3. In a large sauté pan, pour olive oil to about 1/8–inch depth. Over medium-high flame, sauté the eggplant until golden all over, about 4 or 5 minutes. (This might have to be done in batches, depending on the size of the pan.)

4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the veggies to a plate or bowl lined with paper towels. Set aside.

5. Using the same olive oil, (add more oil if needed. You should be starting with roughly ¼ cup) sauté the onions over medium-high flame until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté an additional 5 minutes.

6. To the same pot, toss in the canned chopped tomatoes with their reserved juices, the tomato paste, eggplant, red pepper flakes, oregano, parsley, brown sugar and salt and pepper to taste.

7. Bring to a boil and then reduce the flame to medium-low. Simmer, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes.

8. Remove from the flame. Add the fresh basil and chopped plum tomatoes, stirring well.

9. Spoon 1 cup of the sauce evenly over the bottom of a 1 ½ quart lasagna pan. Toss the prepared pasta with another cup of the sauce. Beginning with the pasta, layer with the mozzarella and sauce 2 times. Sprinkle the top evenly with parmesan cheese.

10. Bake for 50 minutes until bubbling and hot. Shortly before serving, reheat some of the remaining sauce and pass around at table.