I'm having a little bout of food nostalgia at the moment so I've been preparing more Italian/Neapolitan dishes then usual for dinner, and clearly more pasta. Last night it was pasta con melanzane a funghetto, that is, pasta with "mushroom style" aubergines. There is some discussion on what the "mushroom style" part means. According to most Italian sources the name comes from the way the aubergines are cut into small chunks which once fried look more like mushrooms than aubergines. I'm not totally convinced but having no better explanation I'll stick with it. I slightly modified the recipe to make it lighter and to include a nice (medium) hot Turkish pepper sauce I found in a new shop selling Middle Eastern goods.
Traditionally the recipe would start with diced aubergines being fried till golden-brown. Part of the frying oil would then be saved to cook the sauce, but this only because in Italy frying in any other oil then olive is considered by many a sacrilege. For the aubergines I used instead the approach described in the Cafe Paradiso cookbook, which gives tasty aubergines that are not soaked in oil. The aubergine (1 for two of us), once diced is tossed with enough oil to coat every piece and then baked into a medium hot oven till it starts to brown. I still used quite a bit of oil, but a lot less then I would have used for frying.
While the aubergine cooked I made the tomato sauce. In a little oil I sauteed two little cloves from a fresh garlic I bought a few days ago into a little oil. If you manage to find fresh garlic try it, it is more pungent but also more aromatic...delicious. Once the garlic started to turn golden I added one heaped tsp of the pepper sauce, and after a few seconds I added about 1 cup tomato passata and 1/3 of a red wine glass. The red wine is something I usually don't add to tomato sauce but it worked OK this time. Once the sauce started to simmer I added a dozen pitted and chopped black olives (from Turkey too). I let the whole cook and reduce till the sauce had a nice thick spoon coating consistency and then added the now ready aubergine. I let the whole simmer for a couple of minutes to blend flavours and the sauce was ready.
As a pasta I used trofie (also called gemelli by some), but any short-type pasta would do. I made 80 g per person (too little, more pasta here please!!) but anything between this and 120 g could be a normal Italian pasta serving, depending where you live. The pepper sauce gave the sauce an untypical but pleasant heat and a nice hint of roasted red pepper. And pepper and aubergine work great together.