orecchiette with aubergine, courgette & breadcrumbs

i’ve been eating a lot of vegetarian and vegan food recently. it’s not that unusual – i think i probably cook vegetarian meals about half the week but it is definitely more than that at the moment. this is possibly due to the shift in seasons, as i’m desperately taking advantage of those final summer courgettes and tomatoes which we have (no garden gluts for us this year so i have been grateful for both) whilst also loving the start of autumnal vegetables, cavolo nero and crown prince pumpkins in particular.

this pasta dish is on the cusp. it’s got a lot of fresh light flavours – courgettes, lemon and mint – but also has earthier flavours from the fried breadcrumbs, aubergine and olives.

the savoury crunchy breadcrumbs add a lot to the dish but it was actually the subtler flavours of the saffron and the preserved lemon that i really enjoyed – both quite unusual in a pasta dish. i fancy trying it with some cheese crumbled through it – perhaps feta or a mild goat’s cheese.

i’m sharing this dish with theresa at the food hunter’s guide who is hosting this weeks’ presto pasta nights.

ray mcvinnie’s orecchiette with aubergine, courgette & breadcrumbs (serves 6)

8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

100g fresh breadcrumbs

salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 small courgettes, sliced 1cm thick

1 aubergine, cut into 2cm dice

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 preserved lemon (i just used the peel), cut into small pieces

1 cup pitted black olives

large pinch of saffron threads, soaked for 20 minutes in 50ml boiling water

400g orecchiette

a large handful of torn up mint leaves

heat half the oil in a large frying pan over moderate heat and add the breadcrumbs. season well and gently fry for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are brown and crisp. remove and reserve.

add the remaining oil to the pan and then add the courgette, aubergine, garlic, lemon, olives and the saffron with its soaking water. mix well, cover and cook for 10 minutes until the vegetables are soft. meanwhile, cook the orecchiette in plenty of well-salted boiling water until al dente. drain and place in a large, warm serving bowl.

uncover the aubergine mixture and stir in the mint. taste and season. add the aubergine mixture to the orecchiette and mix well. sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top and serve.