The veggie garden is looking decidedly bare and wintery now that I’ve finally pulled out the tomato bushes and collected the very last ripening tomatoes. It’s the end of a process of watching the garden build up and up in a frenzy over summer – the plants growing taller as the weather gets hotter – then watching things come down again piece by piece as the sun slips back in the sky and it starts getting chilly.
Now it’s just the ground-level plants – sage, parsley, rhubarb, horseradish, some tufty rows of little carrots and beetroots, plus me itching to find the time to scrape back the mulch, add some more compost, and put in broad beans, garlic and silverbeet. Making the changeover from one garden season to another about two months too late seems to be what I specialise in …
Likewise, this blog is running a little late! It’s inspired by our summer basil, with a recipe for a favourite eggplant, tomato and basil pasta, nonna-style. Of course you can still buy eggplants and basil, even if they’re not truly in season – or otherwise earmark this recipe for next summer. (In summer or winter, the tomatoes we use for this pasta are generally the tinned or jarred variety, so in their case the season doesn’t matter.)
P.S. Speaking of eggplant, recently a lovely writer called Nikki Fisher posted my recipe for eggplant pickle from The Hungry Girls’ Cookbook Volume 2 on her blog, The Wholefood Mama – click here to go direct to her post and the recipe. Nikki’s prolific blog is all about cooking, motherhood and life on the Mornington Peninsula, and is definitely worth checking out.
Eggplant, tomato and basil pasta
This recipe, or at least the technique, comes from a guy called Vincenzo, a bass-player who was once in a band with my drumming husband, Leigh. It was an era in our lives over a decade ago when we were uni students, and eggplant dishes weren’t either of our fortes. Vincenzo cooked this for the band for dinner one night and it was ground-breaking stuff as eggplant suddenly became delicious! The simple but important point is that eggplant needs to be well cooked – you can’t half-cook it like you can most other veggies. It has to be soft and collapsing to reach its creamy and luscious true purpose in life. This wonderful dish is speedy too – perfect for busy weeknights.
2/3 packet of spaghetti
1 medium–large eggplant (aubergine), cut into 2 cm cubes
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 small red chilli (fresh or dried), split in half lengthwise
500 ml tomato puree (passata), or tinned tomatoes
½ teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 large handfuls basil leaves
freshly grated parmesan to serve
Put a pot of salted water on to boil for the spaghetti.
Meanwhile, heat a frying pan until hot, and add a generous splash of oil and the eggplant. Turn the heat back to medium and fry, stirring regularly, for around 8 minutes, until the eggplant is starting to collapse and stick to the pan. Add the garlic and chilli and fry, stirring, for another minute, then stir in the tomato puree, salt, and pepper to taste and simmer for about 10 minutes.
When the pot of water boils, add the spaghetti and cook to al dente, then drain.
Remove the eggplant sauce from the heat and stir in the basil. Taste for salt and pepper, adding more if needed. Serve on top of the spaghetti with plenty of parmesan.