Pasta with Cheesy Eggplant & Sausage

Pasta with Cheesy Eggplant & Sausage

This pasta was the fortuitous answer to the question, “What should I do with this extra eggplant in the fridge?”

I was making one of my go-to recipes last week, and accidentally picked up more organic eggplant than I needed.

Brainstorming, commence!

Since we just had loads of amazing pasta dishes in Italy, I’ve had pasta on the brain….

And guess what goes great w. pasta? Eggplant!

Pasta with Cheesy Eggplant & Sausage

My favorite pasta dishes are the ones that have depths of flavor. They taste like they’ve been simmering for hours, but they don’t necessarily have to!

Long cooking times help meld the flavors together, creating a rich and cohesive sauce, but there are plenty of tricks to make quick-cooking sauces taste incredibly complex.

  1. Start by browning some meat. Then cook the rest of the sauce in the drippings/browned bits. Instant flavor boost, imparting a savory meaty flavor.
  2. Caramelize everything. Don’t ever underestimate the flavoring power of caramelized onions. And while you’re at it, caramelize any other veggies that brown nicely, like carrots or eggplant.
  3. Add a hit of acid. This brightens up the sauce & gives it a mysteriously fresh tang. I typically use a pour of wine (white wine for brightness, red wine for richness), or if I’m out, a splash of red wine vinegar.
  4. Stir in tomato paste. Let’s face it, canned tomatoes can be a little watery. By stirring in a generous amount of tomato paste, you get rich concentrated tomato flavor that adds sweetness and body to the sauce.
  5. Liberally use dried herbs. Dried herbs may seem less flavorful than fresh ones, but they can add an earthy herbaceous flavor to sauces that will be missed if you skimp on them. Dried herbs are the secret to memorable sauces & can save you from bland-town.
  6. Top it off with flavorful mix-ins. Finish the sauce with fresh herbs and cheese to brighten the sauce & add a rich umami flavor.

Follow these tips for a complex sauce in just 30 minutes.

Give it a try with the eggplant and sausage recipe. It has caramelized onions & eggplant, sweet Italian sausage, 3 types of tomato, dried herbs and spices, capers, white wine, parmesan, and fresh basil.

Pretty darn easy, and super duper delicious.

Pasta with Cheesy Eggplant & Sausage with Garlic Bread

Pasta with Cheesy Eggplant & Sausage

Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time50 mins
Total Time1 hr 10 mins
Servings: 6

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lbs sweet Italian sausage (3 or 4 large)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 small onions, diced
  • 4 cups eggplant cut into 1/2 inch dice (about 1 large)
  • 1 head garlic cloves, peeled & minced
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 lb tubular pasta (I used casarecce, but penne or rigatoni or fusilli would work)
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves, chopped

Instructions

  • Use a knife to cut a slit lengthwise through the casing of each sausage. Peel off the casings and discard.
  • Pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil into a large nonstick skillet and set aside. Use your hands to rip off small (roughly 1/2 inch) pieces of sausage, and place them in the skillet, doing your best to evenly space them.
  • Place the skillet on the stove top over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring often with a spatula to break up the sausage pieces, until the sausage is nicely browned, about 10 minutes. When the sausage is done, use a spatula to move it from the pan to a large plate or bowl & set aside.
  • Reduce the heat to medium, then add the diced onions to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until softened and just starting to turn golden.
  • Add the eggplant and cook for another 8-10 minutes, or until the eggplant is starting to caramelize and is softened.
  • Add 1 more tablespoon of oil, the minced garlic, capers, salt, pepper, oregano, thyme, red pepper flakes, and tomato paste to the pan. Stir to combine, and cook for about 1 minute, until the garlic and spices are fragrant.
  • Add the white wine to the pan and cook for a minute or so until the liquid is mostly evaporated. Next, add the diced tomatoes with their juices, the tomato sauce, and the sausage back to the pan. Stir to combine, cover, and let simmer while you cook the pasta.
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions, until al dente. When it's done cooking, drain the pasta & set aside.
  • Turn off the heat on the pasta sauce and stir in the parmesan cheese and fresh basil. Place a portion of pasta in each of the serving bowls & top with sauce. Enjoy! Goes great with simple side salad and herbed garlic bread.

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Caprese Pasta Salad

Caprese Pasta Salad - Perfect for Summer!

This recipe makes me giddy.

For two reasons:

  1. I’m obsessed with peak-season tomatoes. (THANK YOU farmer’s market)
  2. Caprese salad is one of my favorite dishes ever.

But you can pretty much ONLY make this in the middle of summer, when tomatoes are in their prime.

Try to make this with mealy flavorless supermarket tomatoes, and you will weep salty tears over your bowl.

Do yourself a favor, and head to the nearest farmer’s market pronto. Pick up 5 or 6 beautiful beefsteak or heirloom tomatoes, and squeal with delight. Because they are going to take this meal to a whole ‘nother level.

Two Large Bowls of Caprese Pasta Salad

Caprese salad, with fresh tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella, drizzled with olive oil & balsamic & sprinkled with flaky sea salt & pepper, is one of my favorite dishes ever ever EVER.

Personally, I could straight up eat a giant platter of caprese for my dinner.

But alas, it’s not enough food to count as “dinner” for my man.

This pasta salad is my answer to this dilemma.

It’s BASICALLY just a giant caprese salad tossed with some pasta to make it more filling.

Even better? It’s so easy to make.

The only thing you have to cook is the pasta! Then just toss with some basil, tomato, mozzarella, olive oil, and seasonings. Finish with a drizzle of balsamic, and smile as you spoon each bite into your mouth.

Caprese Pasta Salad with Fresh Heirloom Tomatoes

Caprese Pasta Salad

Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Total Time35 mins
Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 1 lb farfalle (bow tie pasta)
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 2 3/4 lb heirloom beefsteak tomatoes, cut into a large dice
  • 1 lb fresh mozzarella packed in water, cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 cup julienned basil
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Balsamic vinegar, for drizzling

Instructions

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions, until well done. Drain well and place in an extra large serving bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil, and season with the salt and pepper, and toss again.
  • Add the tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and Parmesan cheese to the bowl with the pasta. Toss to evenly distribute.
  • Spoon the pasta into serving bowls, drizzle each portion with balsamic vinegar, and enjoy. Season with extra salt and pepper, if desired.

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Fireman’s Pasta

Fireman's Pasta

It’s been a sad few weeks recently….

Betty Jean Julson, my 80 year old grandmother, passed away from Alzheimer’s disease.

Betty, (better known as BJ) (yep. you read that correctly 😀 ) was the family matriarch, and so full of life and love. She was a woman who loved her husband and family FIERCELY, and always said what was on her mind.

Her lasting legacy is one of love.

She met my grandpa in high school, got married shortly after, and never left his side. Just look at the adoring look she gave him then, and continued to give him until her last moments. <3

Betty Jean Julson

BJ also lived life without a filter.

She was the type of woman who opened up without hesitation, greeting you with a huge hug and genuine care. She dug right into the gritty stuff, asking personal questions & inserting inappropriate jokes as often as possible. She sure loved her bling, but she loved her family more than anything. I’ll admit, living so openly is hard, and every day I strive to emulate that quality.

Julson Family

On her 80th birthday, the whole family gathered at her care facility to celebrate. They brought a beautiful cake, complete with birthday candles to blow out. As my grandma sat at the head of the table, ready to blow out her candles and make her wish, she launched into a beautiful speech.

Keep in mind, at this time, she generally could not hold a conversation or recognize her family, but she dug deep and pulled out these final words of advice she wanted her loved ones to hear:

Betty Jean Julson Speech

Rest in peace grandma. I’m blessed to have you watching over & guiding me and the rest of the family. Love always.

BJ and Erica

Safe to say, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic this week and craving some family recipes.

My grandma was not a huge cook, but she had her fair share of 1950’s classics (meatloaf, au gratin potatoes, mock chicken legs, fried cube steak, lemon bars). Look for some of these to come in the future!

This week I’m re-creating one of my own childhood favorites: Fireman’s Pasta

Not sure where my Dad got this recipe originally… probably the newspaper or the back of a can or jar… but he made it all the time growing up!

It’s called Fireman’s Pasta because of the spicy kick it gets from the hot sauce. So spicy, you might need a fireman to put the fire out in your mouth! My dad LOVES all things spicy…. so my sister and I gained our spicy tastebuds very early on.

However, I realize not everyone loves spicy, so I changed the recipe a bit, adding the hot sauce as an optional topping instead of stirring it into the whole batch. That way, everyone can customize their spiciness level to taste.

Basically, this is a giant pot of penne pasta, garlic, Italian sausage, a whole POUND of fresh spinach, fire roasted tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, black olives, roasted red peppers, and dry white wine.

Ummm… YUM!!!

It’s pretty freaking easy to make (only 2 pots & very little chopping), and feeds 6 very generously. It’s a great way to load up on veggies while still getting some satisfying meat and carbs.

It’s sure to be a hit with your family, as it was with mine 🙂

Fireman's Pasta Close Up Shot in Pan

 

Fireman’s Pasta

Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time50 mins
Total Time1 hr
Servings: 6
Author: Erica Julson

Ingredients

  • 12 oz uncooked penne pasta
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 lb Italian sausage links, casings removed
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb bag fresh spinach
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 6 oz oil packed julienned sun dried tomatoes
  • 7 oz roasted red bell peppers, sliced
  • 1 (15 oz) can natural black olives, drained and halved
  • 1/4 cup julienned fresh basil
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Tabasco or other hot sauce (like Frank’s RedHot), for serving
  • Grated parmesan cheese, for serving

Instructions

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 12 minutes (or according to package instructions). Drain, and set aside.
  • Add the olive oil to a large, deep, nonstick skillet. Use your hands to break up the Italian sausage into small crumbles and sprinkle them evenly inside the skillet. Turn up the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned all over, about 10 minutes.
  • Add the garlic to the skillet, then add as much fresh spinach as will fit. Stir the spinach into the sausage mixture, adding more spinach as it wilts & creates more room. Continue until all the spinach has been added and wilted.
  • Next, add the fire roasted tomatoes, wine, sun dried tomatoes, bell peppers, and olives. Stir, and let simmer for about 5 minutes to let the flavors meld.
  • Add the pasta, fresh basil, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. Cook for just a minute or so to warm the pasta, then turn off the heat. Spoon the pasta into bowls, drizzle with hot sauce, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, and enjoy!
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