Smoked aubergine penne, Will

A supper dish that can be constructed in part, in advance, as and when. Some fire and excitement to boot! The quantities here are approximate, but are aimed at supper for two (or a hearty meal for one, with generous leftovers – which offer new delicious opportunities when later fridge foraging). 

Will
  • Ingredients: In no particular order, assemble around 100-150g of dried penne, a large aubergine, 4 cloves of garlic, a couple of bay leaves, a sprig of parsley cut fine, half a fresh lemon, a good handful of grated Parmesan or other hard cheese, salt, pepper and olive oil. Optional extras include a very small sprinkle of sugar, a third of a glass of dry white wine, and chilli peppers (either a teaspoon of dried flakes or one fresh medium hot pepper diced very fine- of course more can be added if desired).
  • Method: You will need a source of high heat/flame – a gas hob, or blow torch, or an electric grill? Wash the aubergine thoroughly and then pierce the skin several times all over with the tip of a knife or a sharp fork. Think phlebotomy rather than anger management. Now, apply your heat/flame to the skin of the aubergine. I find it easiest to put the aubergine directly onto a low-flame gas hob and then turn the aubergine with tongs frequently over 5 or 10 minutes. You’re aiming for blistered skin with sparsely scattered surface charring, not charcoal. If you’re using an electric grill, set it to maximum before putting the aubergine under it, but watch it like a hawk!

Once the skin has blistered up and the kitchen begins to wear the aroma of natural sugars caramelising, put the aubergine in a snug oven pan, in a medium oven, with a good glug of olive oil and three of the garlic cloves roughly crushed, as well as the bay leaves. 

The aim of this is to render the interior of the aubergine soft and giving, allowing the juices to begin oozing through those pores you made earlier. You shouldn’t need to turn the aubergine and it should take about 20-30 mins to soften, depending on the various factors in play.

Take the pan out of the oven, carefully decant the oil, garlic, bay leaves and juices from beneath the aubergine into a frying pan and set over a low heat. At this stage, if you’re not on a diet, you may want to add another couple of tablespoons of olive oil. It is also a good moment to set the pasta to cook, aiming for al dente. If the pasta is cooked before the aubergine sauce (below) is ready, just drain it and put the lid back on while you finish the sauce. 

The softened aubergine needs to be delicately peeled, the skin and any permeated charred flesh (there shouldn’t be any, but accidents do happen…) discarded. The soft, smokey flesh should be added to the frying pan, and amalgamated with the oil, garlic and bay leaves. Aim for a soft bubbling thick sauce consistency. Now is the time to add the salt and pepper (and wine and chilli if using). Err on the side of generosity with the seasoning and taste at this stage – it should taste slightly oversalted now but the smokiness should be strong without being acrid. If it tastes too bitter, stir in a conservative sprinkle of sugar, give it 2 minutes and then taste again. Repeat as required. If you added wine, let the alcohol cook off before tasting.* 

When you’re happy with the sauce, add a final clove of garlic (crushed to a paste) and stir it in. Then add the sauce to the steaming drained pasta and stir in thoroughly. Cover and let sit for 5 or ten minutes. Immediately before serving, squeeze in the lemon juice and sprinkle over the cheese and the parsley, adding a final twist of pepper. 

Serve with a glass of chilled white wine and a tomato salad. 

If you have leftovers, try mixing the cold aubergine pasta with fresh roughly chopped tomatoes and a little more olive oil, lemon juice and torn soft green herbs (basil, sorrel, oregano?) for a light lunch salad. 

*The aubergine sauce can be made well in advance up to this stage, then boxed in the fridge for up to three days, being then reheated and finished as above when required. 

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