Dinner 4 - Eggplant + Tomato Tagliatelle, Simple Salad with Blue Cheese, Chocolate Loaf Cake with Mascarpone Whip + Passion Fruit
I made this dinner after work, on a Monday. Yes, it’s that simple. Ok, I’ll admit that I made the cake the day before, but it’s actually recommended to do that (not my recipe), and it’s extremely easy and quick. You don’t even need a mixer and honestly, why wouldn’t you want to bake a chocolate loaf cake on a rainy Sunday?
This dinner is totally easy but still kind of impressive as a throw-together meal, plus it uses a lot of items that you might already have in your pantry. Canned tomatoes, dry pasta, pastes and herbs, a salad that’s basically two ingredients plus dressing, and a cake that you can make a few days in advance. That all being said, the meal is layered and full of flavor; it’s more than just pasta and a salad. It’s super warming, like belly-full, nostalgia-inducing warm. And even though it’s more than just pasta and a salad, it’s also, kind of, just pasta and a salad, so the intimidation factor should be pretty low. Does that make sense? What that means after some poetic unraveling is that the meal is very straightforward and comforting, but also incorporates a few tweaks to elevate it from a bag of lettuce with store-bought dressing and pasta with a jar of tomato sauce kind of meal.
Beverage recommendation: Red wine.
In a large salad bowl, whisk the honey, shallot, balsamic vinegar and lemon juice. Add the oregano, salt and pepper, whisk. Add half the oil, whisk.
When ready to serve, crumble most of the blue cheese into the dressing, add the lettuce and combine. Add the rest of the cheese and oil as needed.
Recipe 1 - The Salad
Mixed greens, enough for 4 - 6 people
~5 oz blue cheese
1 tsp honey
1 small shallot, finely diced
~1/4 c olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp dried oregano
dash salt and pepper
Recipe 2 - The Pasta
1 box good quality tagliatelle pasta
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 - 3 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped
1 tsp anchovy paste
1 generous tbsp tomato paste
1 - 2 tbsp dried oregano
dash of smoked chili flake (or regular chili flake)
1 can whole San Marzano tomatoes
1 large eggplant
plenty of olive oil, salt and pepper
Parmesan for finishing
Notes: I will say that if you’re tight on time, you could skip making the sauce on your own, use a jar and add it to the eggplant steps, and call it a day. I’m not advocating that at all because making the sauce is so damn easy, but if you have small humans in your house or something equally justifiable I guessss it’s an option. At least add a dash of oregano to the jar to pep things up. It’s the least you can do.
Roughly cut the eggplant into ~1 - 2 inch cubes. Place on a baking sheet or pan, salt generously and let sit for ~20 minutes (recommend setting a timer). Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 375F.
In a large pot, start the sauce. Saute the onion on medium heat with a generous dash of olive oil and a dash of salt until translucent, ~8+ minutes. Add the garlic, combine (add more oil if needed). Bring the heat down to medium low, add the anchovy paste, tomato paste, oregano and chili flake. Combine, adding a dash of olive oil if needed, and a dash of salt and pepper. Remember, anchovy paste is salty and eventually the parm will add salt too.
Add the can of tomatoes with their juices, using your hands or a flat spatula to break up the tomatoes. Fill the tomato can with water, add the water plus another cup of water and bring the sauce to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer and simmer on low for about an hour. You can check periodically to add water if needed. I’d place the lid on the pot, offset to allow the steam to escape but prevent splattering as the sauce thickens. This sauce can also be done in like, 30 minutes? but the longer you let it sit the more the flavor will develop.
Meanwhile, rinse the salt off the eggplant, pat dry and douse the eggplant in generous rain of olive oil, plus a light dash of salt and pepper. The eggplant already absorbed some salt plus it’s going in the sauce so it doesn’t need much. Roast on a baking sheet for ~25 minutes until mostly tender. It’s ok if it’s dry, you just want it mostly cooked through.
Transfer eggplant to a pan on the stove, adding a dash of olive oil if needed. Caramelize the eggplant by frying it until the flesh is browning a bit. This step could be optional but I think it really adds nice flavor.
To the pan, add the sauce once finished and let the eggplant and tomato sauce marry on low heat while you cook the pasta.
In a large pot, boil the pasta water. Generously salt and cook as per box instructions. When the pasta is al dente, reserve some pasta water in a cup. Drain the pasta and combine with the sauce (preferably in sauce pan but whatever serving vessel you want is fine). Dish out and top with lots o’ parmesan.
Add everything except the fruit to a stand mixer and whip for ~3 minutes until thick. Alternatively use a hand electric whisk.
Store in the refrigerator until serving, top with fruit of choice. I made some suggestions but I think tropical fruit or citrus cut into very small almost juicy pieces is best so you can still spread the whip on the cake.
Recipe 3 - Dessert
For the cake, see Nigella Lawson's cake via Food52, can be made well in advance!
For the whip
1 c heavy whipping cream
8 oz mascarpone
1/4 c powdered sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
Optional: passion fruit, blood orange juice, diced mango
To serve, I like to make this a ‘finger food’ item so slice the loaf cake and then slice the piece in half. Spoon the whip into a serving bowl and plate everything together with a few knives for people to spread the whip on the cake.