orecchiette with aubergine, basil and lemon

i am constantly amazed by the range of pasta dish recipes that exist – there are over a hundred on this blog and i still keep coming across dishes that are different from those i’ve had before. 

nigel slater described this recipe as the perfect food for “someone returning from the fruit patch scratched and bloodied”. i wasn’t wounded but i had had a tough day at work and this definitely hit the spot.

the flesh of a roasted (or chargrilled) aubergine is mixed with olive oil (choose a nice one so the flavour can shine through), lemon juice and basil for freshness plus, in my case, some grated parmesan to add an extra layer of richness and indulgence. the pasta is tossed with this aubergine puree and then topped with slow cooked and caramelised onions. plus parmesan shavings. 

it’s delicious and indulgent. and perfect for ruth’s 5 year celebration of presto pasta nights. ruth – you have created the most enormous and fabulous pasta recipe resource that anyone could every need, and with such generosity of spirit with the shared and inclusive approach you’ve taken. it’s my pleasure to share this with you.

nigel slater’s orecchiette with aubergine, basil and lemon* serves 4

300g dried pasta such as orecchiette

for the sauce:

2 large aubergines

olive oil

2 large onions

a large handful basil leaves

½ a lemon

a tablespoon of grated parmesan (optional addition by abby, omit to make vegan)

set the oven to 200c. slice the aubergines in half lengthways, make shallow cuts almost down to the skin in a criss-cross fashion then brush with olive oil. bake for 30 minutes or until the skin is charred, and the flesh soft to the touch. alternatively, prick the whole aubergines all over with a fork then grill till the skin darkens and the inside is soft.

meanwhile, peel and very finely slice the onions. then let them cook over a moderate heat with a little olive oil till very soft, deep bronze and lightly caramelised.

scrape the flesh out of the aubergine skins into a mixing bowl. leave the flesh in rough pieces or mash it to a pulp. beating constantly, pour in the olive oil a little at a time – you need about 8 tbsp. shred the basil and fold into the aubergine sauce with a seasoning of salt, plenty of pepper, the parmesan (if you are using it) and a shot of lemon juice to make it sing.

cook the pasta in plenty of boiling, heavily salted water till al dente, then drain it lightly, keeping a tbsp or so of the cooking liquid behind in the pot. toss gently with the aubergine sauce and divide among four warm bowls, topped with the cooked onions and a few more torn basil leaves.

*to make a summer version nigel suggests using pine kernels and mint