Friday, 5 April 2013

Of Pens & Poetry... and Pasta!

Penne "Arabiche" con Melanzane, Curcurma, Uvetta & Pinoli
"Arabian" Penne with Eggplant, Turmeric, Raisins & Pine Nuts

We all love pasta! Especially me, being Sicilian of course- clearly it is a given that I like it in almost any of its myriad forms and flavors! But at the same time, as versatile as pasta may be, we can all run out of ideas for how to prepare it... to make it a little different... interesting- even exciting!

Again, drawing on my multi-cultural background and my adventurous nature, I came up with an idea to use up the last eggplant I had in my fridge and to make a plate of delicious penne with an ancient Sicilian /Arabic twist, with pine nuts and raisins and spice- perfect for a Friday night! Starting off like this- the weekend has just got to be a good one!

I decided to peel the egg plant for this dish- for a couple of reasons- one- because of course it cooked more quickly and easily and two- because it then rendered down into this smooth rich, creamy dressing, which replaced any kind of traditional sauce and made for a great change. So whilst the pasta was boiling away, I started off my prep-work by quickly browning a handful of pine nuts, so that I could add them later... still- first things first! Get them done before you get the pan all messy! ;-)

Next, I diced the eggplant and popped it into the hot frying pan I had just toasted the pine nuts in... no oil- just heat and movement! That's all it takes! In next to no time, it will begin to brown... stir it around and it will begin to "sweat"... stir it some more and it will begin to soften. The great thing about cooking you eggplant like this is that it simply concentrates the flavor right down... nothing added- and nothing taken away. BUT... as soon as it gets to the point that it is beginning to soften- that is the point that it is most receptive to absorbing other flavors... so that's the thing to do!

In went- crushed garlic, finely chopped onion and celery, a little grated ginger, chili flakes, salt and pepper... and then the fun stuff- a teaspoon each of turmeric powder and Ras el Hanout.... and wow! Everything became transformed!

By this time, the penne of course were nicely "al dente", so I drained them of most of the water, but kept them close at hand and steaming, ready to be added to the eggplant and spices. Of course, by this time, the pan was beginning to verge on becoming too dry and the eggplant was slightly beginning to stick... but in a good way! All of that stuff sticking to the bottom of the pan is great flavor! In order to not let things get out of control though, I added the penne, remaining water and all, into the pan... and with a nice "hisss!" the pan was deglazed and the penne began to soak up all of the good flavor... and color! SO pretty!

At this point I added a handful of raisins and a teaspoon of vegetable stock powder/granules. I know it seems like a bit of a cop-out... but that's what I did! It needed a little something to bring all of the good flavors into balance- so the stock was one thing- but the other 2 things I added, were a little drizzle of honey and an even smaller squeeze of lemon juice- and now it tasted great! A sprinkle for finely chopped parsley and a scattering of toasted pine nuts made it prettier and tastier still... and I have to say that I really loved it! And I reckon that you all will too!

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