Usually if an eggplant and pasta are in the same room together, there's tomato sauce involved.
Here's a recipe that bucks this convention and features eggplant without the sauce, but with red onions, garlic, baby spinach, and mint, all sautéed in extra virgin olive oil and tossed with spaghetti pasta and crumbled feta cheese.
It is amazingly good! Surprisingly good. Like you just want to keep eating it good.
You need to use a firm globe eggplant, not a tender Japanese eggplant for a recipe like this. The cubed globe eggplant will hold its shape in the time it takes to brown on all sides.
The taste of mint is understated, it's used like one would use oregano or thyme, just an herb to add a note to the dish.
The recipe comes by way of my friend Kathi who cooked for many years at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco and who regularly inspires the dishes here on Simply Recipes. Thank you Kathi!
Pasta with Eggplant, Feta, and Mint
- 1/2 pound (225 g) of spaghetti or any other long thin Italian pasta (linguini or fettuccini)
- 3/4 pound (340 g) globe eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2 to 3/4-inch cubes (about 2 1/2 cup of cubed eggplant)
- 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 medium red onion, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced (1 tablespoon)
- 2 cups fresh baby spinach (3 ounces, 85 g), roughly chopped
- 5 to 6 mint leaves (spearmint), minced
- 2 ounces (57 g) feta cheese, crumbled
- Freshly ground black pepper
Heat salted water for pasta:
Put a large pot of salted water (1 Tbsp of salt for every 2 quarts of water) on to boil. While the pasta water is heating, start cooking the eggplant.
Sauté cubed eggplant:
Heat 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet (preferably non-stick that can handle high temperatures) on high heat.
When the oil is shimmering hot, add the cubed eggplant. (Add one cube first to make sure the pan is hot enough. If the eggplant sizzles, it is.) Toss to coat with the hot oil. Brown on all sides.
While cooking, sprinkle with 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt. Browning the eggplant should take 8 to 10 minutes. When the eggplant is browned on all sides, remove it from the pan to a bowl, set aside.
Start cooking sliced red onion:
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to the pan. Heat oil on high heat. When the oil is hot, add the sliced red onion, toss to coat with the olive oil. Reduce heat to medium.
Put the pasta in the boiling pasta water. Return to a boil, boil uncovered at rolling boil until al dente, cooked through but still a little firm to the bite, about 10 minutes, depending on your package of dry pasta. While the pasta is cooking, continue with the onions.
Add garlic to red onion, then spinach, then eggplant, and mint:
Cook the red onion until softened but not browned. Add the minced garlic, cook a minute more.
Add the spinach leaves and cook until just wilted. Return the cooked eggplant to the pan and add the mint. Toss to combine. Remove from heat.
Toss pasta with eggplant mixture:
When the pasta is ready, scoop out a cup of the pasta cooking water and set aside. Then drain the pasta and add the drained cooked pasta to the sauté pan with the eggplant, onions, and spinach.
Add about 1/2 cup of pasta water to the pan with everything. Toss to combine. If you need a little more pasta water, add a little more.
Add most of the crumbled feta cheese:
to the pasta and eggplant and toss everything to combine.
Serve garnished with the remaining crumbled feta cheese and sprinkle generously with freshly ground black pepper.