Anyone who has read one of Donna Leon’s best-selling novels knows about Commissario Guido Brunetti. Brunetti is the intelligent and capable police commissioner who confronts crime around his hometown of Venice, Italy.
And he’s also the namesake of a cookbook by Leon and Roberta Pianaro, which features Venetian recipes such as orecchiette with asparagus; ravioli with squash, butter and sage; artichokes stuffed with prosciutto; baked branzino; and pork stew with porcini and polenta, among others.
I grabbed my copy of “Brunetti’s Cookbook” the other day to look for recipes that feature eggplant, which is abundant in my garden this summer. The one that caught my eye was Ruote with Eggplant and Ricotta, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The combination of eggplant, pasta, pecorino romano and ricotta cheese and tomatoes was mouthwatering. The dish was enhanced by garlic and fresh basil leaves. Anyone who has drooled over the descriptions of meals or lunches in Leon’s novels should love this dish.
Ruote with Eggplant and Ricotta
2 to 3 eggplants, 6 inches long
1 teaspoon salt, plus extra for salting the eggplant
Sunflower oil for frying
12 ounces ruote or fusilli pasta
8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3½ cup tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 fresh chili
10 fresh basil leaves
4½ ounces mild ricotta cheese
⅓ cup pecorino romano cheese, grated
Slice the eggplant into rounds about ½-inch thick. Arrange them in layers in a colander and sprinkle each layer with salt. Leave to drain, with heavy weight on top to press out any excess water. After about 2 hours, squeeze them and pat dry with paper towel. Fry, a few at a time, in boiling oil, until golden. Drain on paper towels, set aside, covered. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water.
For the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large, nonstick pan or casserole and lightly brown the garlic. Add the tomatoes, salt, chili, torn basil leaves and ½ cup water. When cooked, blend in the ricotta and add the pasta, eggplant (in whole slices or cut into smaller pieces, as desired) and pecorino. Mix well and serve.
Yield: Serves 4.