While I am by no means a pasta person, I do enjoy an exception to that rule every decade or so. On one such an occasion I found myself in the company of my dear friend Julie – many many moons ago – in a place called Vapiano, ordering a plate of pasta which combined only a couple of good quality ingredients into a very satisfying experience: fresh linguine, cherry tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil leaves and mozzarella.
A while ago the fancy struck me and I wanted to create something reminiscent of that dish, but with my own twist to it. A Greeker (and vegan) version if you will, but one that would deliver the same level of indulgence. For me the indulgence lies predominantly in the basil leaves (and the extra olive oil). I don’t know what it is about freshly torn basil, but to me it transforms any ordinary dish to something quite special. The kalamata olives stand in proudly to take the place of salty mozzarella. For the base I used Ajvar, the ‘sauce’ of the Balkans, to bring everything together and create a dish that’s very much reminiscent of home.
For a pasta, this dish features some pretty healthy ingredients, and with a whole wheat pasta variety (a thinner variety such as capelini or spaghettini doesn’t have that gritty feel, promise) you even get a nice amount of protein per your serving. You’ll need a big pan to prepare the sauce. Use a GreenPan to keep your precious ingredients pure & free from harmful toxins. We used the ‘Open Oval I love fish & vegetables’ pan.
(This recipe serves 4 hungry people)
How to make it
1. Preheat your oven to 220°C. Wash and dry your eggplant. Cut vertically in 1 cm thick slices. Layer the slices in an oven dish and brush with olive oil on both sides. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake for 25 min. turning once half way through.
2. Heat a pot with salted water and cook your pasta according to the instructions on the package, making sure not to overcook (al dente).
3. Heat a large GreenPan or skillet on medium heat and add 3 Tbsp olive oil to your pan. In the meantime mince the onion and garlic cloves finely. Add to pan, tossing everything, then get to cutting your baby tomatoes in small pieces while the onion glazes. I usually cut the tomatoes lengthwise, then score them 3 more times horizontally. Add to your pan and season with salt and pepper.
4. Cut the olives in slivers. If yours aren’t pitted (like mine), pit them first!
5. Once the cherry tomatoes have released their juice, toss in the olive pieces and spoon in the Ajvar and marinara sauce and stir to combine. Season with more salt add pepper, paprika powder and granulated garlic.
6. Remove the eggplant from the oven when done and – carefully so as not to burn yourself – slice in 4 cm pieces. Don’t worry about the slices coming out pretty. Add to the pan.
7. Sliver 6 big basil leaves and toss in the sauce along with another drizzle of olive oil.
8. Check on your pasta. Drain and rinse with cold water to remove excess starch, then combine with the sauce (either in the pan or pot, whichever can accommodate both).
9. Let simmer for an additional minute, then turn off the heat and serve in twirly mounds. Garnish with remaining basil leaves, some olive oil and chili pepper flakes & serve immediately.
Notes: This recipe works fine with or without the eggplant. If you’re not a fan or simply don’t have one on hand, you can easily opt to leave it out or sub with a red bell pepper. To up the Balkan-level of this sauce, use vodka marinara and let me know what happens. :-)