When I eat this pasta, I dream of Rome. The combination of sweet herbs used in Roman cooking, as well as a hit of anchovy and sprinkle of Romano cheese is what takes me there. While Vesuvio is a delightfully shaped pasta from Naples and not typically Roman, it grips whatever sauce it comes into contact with and it’s fun to eat. It also has a nice tooth which makes it a pleasure to consume with the soft caramelized eggplant. If you don’t have Vesuvio you can use a nice ribbon pasta such as tagliatelle or pappardelle with good success. A little tomato puree – about ½ cup – can be added with the pasta for acidity to balance the sauce instead of the lemon if you can’t imagine a pasta dish without it. Serves 6 to 8
1. Toss cubed eggplant with 1 tablespoon salt and place in a colander over a bowl to drain for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Squeeze the eggplant dry with your hands and reserve in a bowl.
2. Heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add ¼ cup olive oil and then ½ the eggplant. Sauté until golden about 7 minutes. Remove to a plate and repeat with the remaining eggplant.
3. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the same pan over medium high heat. Add the eggplant back to the pan and make a well in the center of the pan. Add the garlic and anchovy and cook until the garlic is lightly toasted, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stir in the herbs and mix everything together well.
4. Cook pasta al dente according to the package and reserve 3 cups of the pasta cooking water (it should be lightly salted).
5. Add the pasta to the eggplant pan and toss. Keep tossing and adding pasta water to the pan until the liquid becomes creamy looking and viscous. This is the starch from the pasta thickening the sauce. The pasta should be lightly coated and not clumpy. Add more water to the pan until the pasta and sauce move freely yet the juices are silky. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
6. Squeeze lemon over, adjust seasoning and transfer to a serving platter. Serve with Romano cheese and more black pepper over the top or serve the cheese on the side.