Ziti, Eggplant, Sun-dried Tomatoes & More - Pasta Sunday


Sure, I recognize that Cinco de Mayo is coming up, and maybe you were expecting a taco or fajita recipe.  I'm figuring... No, I'd bet the farm that there are a gazillion other sites that will provide you with oodles of Mexican celebratory dishes.  I like Mexican food but I'm Italian (well, as we all know now with 1/4 Polish, shhh). Plus, you're gonna need a dish for  Sunday.

What can I tell you?  I'm a creature of habit and I love me some pasta on a Sunday. Well, any day really, but Sundays are a must. And it's usually the kind of pasta dish where I'm just throwing together things that I unearth from the back of the fridge or from a pantry rummage.  As my grandmother, who didn't quite understand my need for experimentation, used to call it, Mescolanza. Roughly translated; 'mixed up mess' which doesn't sound very appealing, right?  Consequently, the need for another title was apparent.  Thus the renaming of these types of creations to Something from Nothing Specials was born. Although not super sexy, it does sounds more creative and less like a mistake.  I have to admit, with some pride, that I can't recall a time when I experimented with pasta and it didn't taste good.  Could bias play a role by sheer virtue that I crave pasta like a smoker craves nicotine? Sure, but I have confirmation from others that they like my creations, too.   

So this past Sunday began a bit slow and lazy. When I woke up I had in the back of my mind that it was a pasta day. Although Spring had been trying to eek its pretty little neck out, this particular day was quite chilly, and even a bit nasty. Pasta always warms my soul and my belly. Heck, who am I kidding?  It's Sunday. I don't need any other excuse to make pasta.  So, after doing some Spring cleaning, my reward was to whip me up some comfort and serve it up like a trophy for my work. (I think I might have a serious pasta problem.)

Sure, I had fresh tomatoes.  I even had mushrooms. But that big, hunking jar of sun-dried tomatoes was staring me down as I opened the refrigerator door.  Those jewel colored, intensely flavored bites reminded me of how often I cooked with them in Miami. I was immediately transported back with memory waves of the other ingredients that were my favs: artichoke hearts, capers and olives.  Always trying to keep some solid staples on hand, of course I had capers and olives at the ready.  But with artichokes in attendance, it seemed imperative that I resurrect an old dish.  Also making an appearance, but as a new addition were some baby Italian eggplant. Throw in a few aromatics and we have a pasta dish, y'all.  

The main line up.

The main line up.


1 lb pasta (I used gluten free Tinkyada ziti but use whatever you like)
3 small Italian eggplant, cut in 1/2" strips (approx. 4 c)
1 c artichoke hearts, quarters
1/4 c sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, sliced (approx. 1.5c)
2 T Kalamata Olives
3 large garlic cloves, sliced
1.5 T capers
3 T olive oil
1/2 -1 t salt
1/2 t red pepper flakes
2 c basil, chiffonade
Goat or Feta cheese, or Pesto, optional



Put a pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. Sauté the onions in oil, adding 1/2 t salt and red pepper over low heat.  Let soften while you slice the eggplant and garlic. 


Add the eggplant and slightly raise the flame to medium low.  You want to brown the eggplant a bit.  While the eggplant is cooking, prep all the remaining ingredients, and add the pasta to the boiling pot. Once the eggplant has browned, add a tad more oil in the middle of the pan to cook the garlic. Then add the capers, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts.  Lower the heat and let warm through. At this point, give it a taste for seasoning.  Capers, olives and sun-dried tomatoes can be salty which is why I only started with 1/2 t salt to start, and then added another 1/2 t before adding the pasta. 

It's important to not overcook the garlic, so only add that once the onions and eggplant are browned.

It's important to not overcook the garlic, so only add that once the onions and eggplant are browned.

The aromatic line up: Sun-dried tomatoes, capers, Kalamata olives, artichoke hearts.(Notice I only had a few olives, so that's the amount I used.)

The aromatic line up: Sun-dried tomatoes, capers, Kalamata olives, artichoke hearts.(Notice I only had a few olives, so that's the amount I used.)

Add them all to the pan so they cozy up together.

Add them all to the pan so they cozy up together.

By this time the pasta should be ready.  Reserve some of the pasta water, then drain the rest.  Add the pasta to sauce pot, stir together.  Add the pasta water as needed to loosen up. Turn off the heat and add the basil.  Serve immediately. 

Add the pasta to the mix and stir together. Now is the time to add the pasta water to your liking.

Add the pasta to the mix and stir together. Now is the time to add the pasta water to your liking.

Add the basil at the end to keep it from cooking all the way through.

Add the basil at the end to keep it from cooking all the way through.

Grate some cheese over top.  This dish would also be delicious with chunks of feta or goat cheese stirred in. I didn't have either but can completely imagine and taste it in my mind.  


Since I had so much basil, I made walnut pesto which I used to warm up the leftover pasta.  Let me tell you that was a winning combination.

Happy Sunday or any day.

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Gremolata on Grilled Eggplants - Dana style


Last summer I happened upon long, white eggplants that motivated me to grill them and top them with a feta cream concoction.  I, and my guests, loved the combo so much that I was again inspired by the zesty, tangy flavors of feta, herbs and lemon. This time wanting to create more of a gremolata style topping. 

Ok, before the emails start coming asking, "What is gremolata" ? (Although trust me, I never mind getting your email questions or suggestions.)  Gremolata is an Italian condiment, if you will.  Super basic, but like many things Italian, it makes a powerful statement.  It's a zesty garnish of chopped herbs. The classic version consists of lemon zest, garlic, parsley and anchovy and is often used as to complement such dishes as Osso Buco alla Milanese, providing a final flavor zip to a rich meat dish.  

Classic style is great since most of those ingredients are common to every kitchen, and it creates a wonderful go-to topping to liven up any dish.  However, fear not of veering off the common path. I implore you to go ahead and venture out. Mix and match to design your own gremolata.  Think other citrus fruits such as lime, orange, grapefruit.  Mix up the herb type either substituting or adding to the parsley with cilantro/coriander, mint, sage. When it comes to the spicy zing of garlic, ponder anything zingy: finely grated fresh horseradish, grated ginger or minced shallot. Some chefs even throw in Pecorino Romano cheese, anchovy, toasted pine nuts or grated bottarga.  So, no big surprise that I would riff off the classic gremolata to create a garnish that was destined to brighten up another batch of long, white eggplants. 

eggplant copy.jpg

I quickly began compiling items for my dana version.  The key to a great gremolata is FRESH ingredients. No jarred herbs or citruses allowed.



1/4 c chopped parsley
3 T chopped Moroccan or oil cured olives
1 T chopped fresh, mint
2 T chopped oven dried tomatoes*
1/3 c crumbled feta
1/4 t red pepper flakes
3 T minced shallot
1 T lemon zest
3 T olive oil

*I made my own oven dried tomatoes and packed them in oil. Recipe is linked above but can also use sun dried tomatoes


Grill or prepare the meat or veggie of your choice.  As I mentioned, I grilled white eggplants and onions.

Chop, prep all the above ingredients and combine together.  A true gremolata does not include the oil. But you can add it to the mix or drizzle it over top the final dish.


This adds such a bright, summer fresh flavor to grilled anything.  Heck, I bet this would be banging on a grilled hamburger.  Skip the ketchup, and pile on the gremolata!!

Another fringe benefit to using gremolata on vegetables is that you rake in all the fresh, brightness of citrus without turning your green vegetables brown. I also tried it on spaghetti squash and it definitely imparted a different flavor profile.  Now that's amore!


Pasta Mescolanza - Mesco What?

Now I bet you are wondering about the title of this post. No, it doesn't mean eggplant which is ironic since that IS the main ingredient. Basically it means mixed up pasta.  This is the word my grandmother used to dub my dishes whenever I made up recipes that seemed odd or foreign to her.  So it seemed quite fitting to give this dish that name since it is typical of my  'what do I have to cook with?' style.

It all began this past Monday as I was driving home from the city right around lunch time.  I was so hungry that my first instinct was to stop on any city street corner and grab some food.  I even considered one of those nasty looking carts that didn't look quite...well, shall we say "healthy". Lucky for me my natural tendency was to not spend money needlessly when I knew there were items at home.  It just required some patience.  I endured the ride home and used the time to mentally survey what contents presently existed in my refrigerator. I knew I had two things that needed to get used soon. Eggplant and feta cheese.  (I zealously over bought fresh feta from our local Armenian market because it looked oh so beautiful and I wanted to do a taste comparison between French & Greek Feta.)

I also knew I had potatoes and for a split second starting building on that.  Until my Italian roots kicked in with deep rumblings from my stomach crying out PASTA. Which is how that became the base for whatever it was I was about to cook up.  As with any 'something from nothing'  creation, you build as you go.  I got home and immediately put water up to boil for my pasta.

Pasta boiling away.Doesn't that look like the start of something heavenly.  

Pasta boiling away.Doesn't that look like the start of something heavenly.  

Then I opened the fridge to see what else might tag along on this eggplant, feta, pasta ride.  Staple items sitting in the door shelves screamed out 'Use me, it's been awhile.'  In order of loudest screams were:  sun-dried tomatoes, oil cured olives, and capers. The shallot and garlic were a given to be used.  Earthy, strong, powerful flavors taking a stand for pasta.


While the pasta was boiling away, I cubed the eggplant and in a screaming hot cast iron skillet I added a small amount of oil and the eggplant.  Key here, do not add too much oil or touch the eggplant.  It's a sponge.  The more oil you add the more it will absorb and then it gets mushy.  Not stirring them around allows them to sear, which is what I wanted.  


Whilst that was cooking away, I chopped up sun-dried tomatoes, black oil cured olives, shallot and garlic.  

Once I gave the eggplant a stir, I added a bit more oil along with the shallots and garlic to let them cook.  Then in went the rest of the items.  Do not add any salt to this before you taste it. Between the sun-dried tomatoes, olives and capers the salt level is already at a pretty good pitch. (If you like heat, add some red pepper flakes.)


The Mescolanza coming together.

The Mescolanza coming together.

The pasta was just shy of al dente, so it was the perfect time to add it to the eggplant pan and combine.  And a little of the pasta water helps binds it altogether.

As I mentioned I had a ton of feta so that is what I topped this dish with.  However, goat cheese would be great too. This dish has an very earthy flavor to it.  Not for the shy at heart since all those flavors pack a punch.  When you are starving with but one fresh element to work with, pull from your reserves and create your own Pasta Mescolanza.  Perfect for Monday or any day.  

Below are the rough amounts for this dish.  Honestly, I would have never measured a single item for this creation, as a true something from nothing creation is all about whatever you have in whatever amount you have. But I did want to give you a guide, so below is what I used.  This only took 15 minutes to pull together and my stomach was as happy as any Italian could be.


1/2 lb pasta
1/4 c approx. Baby eggplant, cubed
1/3 c sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/4 c black oil cured olives, chopped
1/4 c shallots, minced
1 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 t capers
Olive oil
Feta or goat cheese, amount to be determined by you

While writing this post, I ate the whole bowl and forced myself to stay in my office so as not to go back for a refill. The two things I would do differently.  Mince or thinly slice the garlic, and add fresh parsley or basil if I had any. Also, I ate the leftovers the next day and used creamy goat cheese.  I must admit that I prefer that over the feta as it mellows out the intense flavors of all the other ingredients and creates a creaminess to the dish.  A Mangiare!!