One of the highlights of our recent trip to Rome was tasting this pasta dish simply labelled Rigatoni in Eggplant, Pachino Tomato and Mozzarella Sauce. It looked quite plain, too – no chunky bits, no toppings of cheese, no sprinkling of herbs. How could it taste so good? The pasta was more al dente than we’re used to, but the sauce… the sauce just had that deep, smoky flavour that made me want to go home and recreate this dish in our kitchen.
Our server – probably a member of the family that ran the restaurant (with the matriarch herself manning the stoves, we were told) – seemed too harassed to oblige us with more information on the food and their ingredients. Eggplant, tomato, mozzarella – that’s all the clue we could get from the menu. As for that smoky flavour –  I could only guess the vegetables were roasted before they were stewed, as it would take more than smoked paprika to build such depth.

Deconstructed in Rome that evening and reconstructed as soon as we got home, here’s our own version of that unforgettable Eggplant, Tomato and Mozzarella Sauce. This recipe substitutes Roma tomatoes for the Pachino variety, smoked gouda for the mozzarella, and penne for the rigatoni. We also added chili flakes, so it’s a bit spicy – ‘coz, hey, we’re Asian that way!
The recipe looks long and intimidating, but it’s really simple and can be summed up in three steps: a) Roast vegetables; 2) Cook with rest of ingredients; 3) Serve and enjoy!
1 eggplant, sliced
a handful of salt
1 bell pepper (green, red or yellow), sliced
4-5 Roma tomatoes, sliced
1 bulb/head garlic
Extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 onion (diced)
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes (optional)
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 cup grated smoked gouda
1 pound pasta
1/4 cup grated parmesan, for topping
chopped parsley, to garnish
Roast the vegetables:
1. Toss the eggplant in the salt and let sit in a bowl or colander for 20-30 minutes.
2. Rinse the salt off the eggplant and pat dry.
3. Toss the eggplant, tomatoes, bell pepper slices in olive oil, salt and pepper
4. Arrange vegetables in a single layer on a baking sheet.
5. Bake in a preheated 400F oven until tender, about 20-30 minutes.
Roast the garlic:
1. Chop off top portion of garlic bulb.
2.  Lay bulb on tinfoil and drizzle with olive oil, about 2 tablespoons. Wrap tightly.
3. Roast in 400F oven, about 40 minutes.
4. Remove from heat; when cool, squeeze out the cloves and discard the skin.
Prepare the sauce:
1. Heat about 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pan.
2. Add the onions and saute until tender, about 5-7 minutes.
3. Add the roasted garlic and red pepper flakes and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.
4. Add the roasted vegetables, the canned diced tomatoes, oregano, paprika, grated mozzarella or gouda cheese and bring to a boil.
5. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sauce starts to thicken, about 30-40 minutes.
11. Remove from heat. When cool, roughly pureé with a handheld blender. Store in refrigerator.
To serve:
Reheat the sauce while cooking the pasta per package directions.
Top pasta with sauce and garnish with grated parmesan cheese and parsley.