Sunday, September 19, 2021

Pasta Siciliana Mezzogiorno

fruits of the Midi renoir 1881Fruits of the Midi, Renoir, 1881

‘Tis the harvest season: eggplant, peppers, tomatoes – all at their peak. Here’s a dinner idea using some of them. It’s a concept more than a recipe and can be modified to taste and ingredients on hand. It’s a bit of a mashup of two of our favorite pasta dishes - garlic sausage linguine and penne with eggplant - from The Earle in Ann Arbor. It’s been our go-to favorite since 1980 and until last year was still headed by the original chef and sommelier. But hey, 40 year years on and I guess you have to expect some changes, yes?

We actually made this last Sunday but with another perfect deck dining day on the radar it would be perfect for today as well. For some reason I can no longer recall why we call this pasta dish ‘Siciliana Mezzogiorno’ but is sounds romantic. It requires a lot of ingredients and a fair amount of prep work but if you do all that ahead of time execution is quite swift. 

Let’s start with the mice-on-plates (Mise en place), for the sauce, in no particular order:

ingredients for 2 huge portions or 4 generous dinner size portions

Hot Hungarian pepper slices, 1 small tomato, chopped, 1 small roasted red pepper (jarred is fine) cut in thin strips, 1/2 lb. garlic/Italian sausage – I cooked mine ahead of time, but you don’t have to, just drain most of the fat after browning, 1 small cubed eggplant, peeled or not. Two cloves of garlic or so, minced, pitted Kalamata olives, halved or quartered, sweet red pepper slices, sliced, fresh basil leaves. Raj likes to throw some diced capicola in too if we have them, but we didn’t.

You will also need 1/2 lb. (for two diners) of pasta of your choice, we used spaghetti. Romano cheese and  bread crumbs, I use panko, toasted with a bit of olive oil in small frying pan.

crumbs and romano

Once you’ve done the prep work you can go play for awhile. When hunger strikes put a large pot of salted water on to boil for cooking the pasta and get out a large skillet.

If you haven’t precooked your sausage, do it now, and drain the grease (or not). Add a bit of olive oil and the garlic and stir around with the sausage for about a minute then add a bit more olive oil, the eggplant and sauté for a minute or two longer, adding additional olive oil if needed. Add the tomatoes, peppers, a bit of wine or pasta water to keep it moist and cook for a couple more minutes, stir in the olives. Salt, pepper and additional olive oil to taste.

Drain the pasta well, reserving a bit of water, and add it to the sauce in your skillet. Stir to coat the pasta, adding a bit of water if needed, and finish up with the basil leaves, torn roughly or sliced.


Serve, topping with grated Pecorino Romano cheese, crumbs (and maybe another little drizzle of olive oil because why not?) and you have yourself a dish fit for royalty.


And because there aren’t enough carbs here, why not serve it with a nice panzanella salad while homegrown tomatoes and cukes are still available? Toss in a few cubes of fresh mozzarella to up the protein content and all’s good.  

panzanella with moz

You can modify to taste: zucchini instead of or along with eggplant, sweet peppers subbed for hot (or sautéed and served on the side if not everyone is a chili-head). It’s a concept, not a recipe. But if it’s nice today in your part of the world just get outside and enjoy it, even if you just pick up a pizza.

pasta panzannela rose

As with all good things, it is fleeting.

ETA: Along with a salad this actually made enough for dinner with enough leftovers for another dinner. If however, you are still in the hunger years, it makes enough as they say to serve 2 generously. Oh, and it’s really much better than it looks.