Let-My-Eggplant-Go-Free! Spaghetti

This is a lovely eggplant spaghetti sauce I made one day when I was bored and just wanted an alternative to the regular red sauce. Add spaghetti to the mixture or else add spaghetti on the side. This also goes well if you add a little mozzarella or Parmesan cheese on top. The thick, chunky sauce is splendid. I like to have it with a glass of red wine, crusty Italian bread and a tossed salad….

In the grand tradition of humble Italian peasant food, a very ugly sauce. Gray, slippery and rather limp. You cook cubed eggplant and some garlic in olive oil, with the addition of some stock or water, until it goes all melty and soft and the fibers just sort of collapse underneath gentle pressure. It takes just 20 minutes, long enough to get started on setting the table, eating all the olives in your fridge or just having a drink to unwind from all the stress of your week, whether it involved car crashes and bleeding feet or not. Then, using a fork or a spoon or whatever you have around, you mash up the eggplant until it’s, well, saucy. And to brighten up each spoon-, er, forkful, in goes some sliced basil and good dollop of minced sun-dried tomatoes. And salt. Don’t forget the salt.

The noodles, chewy and slippery, curl around the pockets of sweet, savory eggplant, the basil snakes between each bite and a pop of tomato here and there makes the water run together in your mouth as you eat. You don’t even need a grating of Parmigiano. You’ve got all you ever needed on your plate, right there.

Did I mention the salt? Don’t forget the salt. It’s the difference between a sauce that makes you sit up and pay attention and a sauce that just hums quietly along instead of singing loud and clear.

Spaghetti with Let-My-Eggplant-Go-Free! Sauce
Serves 3 or 4

1 pound eggplant, cut into ½ inch slices
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, lightly smashed
2 springs thyme or oregano, chopped
1 cup chicken stock or water
2 tablespoons sun-dried or oven-dried tomatoes, minced
6 leaves basil, sliced thinly
Salt and pepper
1 pound spaghetti

1. Lightly salt the slices of eggplant, stack them back together and let sit for 20 minutes.

2. Put the olive oil in a wide, heavy saucepan, add the garlic cloves, and set over low heat.

3. Dry off the eggplant, cut it into chunks. When you start hearing the garlic sizzle a little and can smell it, drop in your eggplant and stir to coat it all with oil. Turn up the heat a little bit to medium high and add the thyme or oregano and stir. When the eggplant is turning translucent and softening, add the liquid, let it come to a boil, and turn it back down to medium-low. Let it bubble for a bit and cover it, leaving a crack for steam to escape. Stir once in a while so that the bottom doesn’t stick.

4. After about 20 minutes or so, the liquid in the eggplant pan should be mostly evaporated and the eggplant should be soft and melting. Mash it with a fork or spoon, and adjust the seasoning to taste.

5. Toss the eggplant purée with the spaghetti that you cooked al dente. Stir in the minced tomatoes and basil. You can gild the lily with drizzling on some more oil. Serve immediately.

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