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Food Network Favorites: Eggplant Pasta

My last test from the Alton Brown chapter in Food Network Favorites. The success of this dish all hangs on how you feel about eggplant. It's a polarizing vegetable; people who like it tend to really like it, while those who hate it...well, they loathe it. If you fall into the latter camp, this recipe is not for you.

I'm not a huge eggplant fan myself, so I enlisted the help of an eggplant-loving neighbor to taste this dish and give the recipe a fair shot. His verdict? "Good, but kind of boring." And that's what I would say about it too, once I get past the initial "eggplant, ick" moment. The book once again tries to play up how "original" Alton Brown is, claiming that by cutting the eggplant into noodle-shaped strips, he "turns our notion of Eggplant Parmesan upside down." Eh, I wouldn't go that far. This is pretty much a sauté of eggplant in creamy tomato sauce. Not terribly exciting, but it makes a serviceable side dish.

The only change I have suggested is to salt both sides of the eggplant. Brown's recipe merely states to sprinkle salt on the slices, but I think you'll get better results by salting one side, turning them over, and salting the other side. Don't skip this step, as it is crucial in removing the excess (and somewhat bitter) liquid from the eggplant.

Prep Time: 60 minutes, including a 30-minute rest for the eggplant
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

2 medium-to-large eggplants (about 2 pounds total)
4 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
4 small tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 Tbsp basil chiffonade
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper

Peel each eggplant, leaving 1 inch of skin unpeeled at the top and the bottom. Slice the eggplant thinly lengthwise, about 1/4 inch thick. Lay the slices on a wire rack atop a sheet pan. Evenly sprinkly with salt, then turn the slices over and sprinkle the other side with salt. Let rest for 30 minutes.

Rinse the eggplant slices with cold water and roll in paper towels. Slice the pieces into thin fettucine-like strips.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and crushed pepper and cook until garlic is lightly golden and aromatic. Add the eggplant and toss to coat. Add the tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes. Add the cream and increase heat to thicken the sauce. Add the basil and Parmesan and toss to combine. Season with black pepper to taste. Add additional salt if necessary, but be sure to taste first as the eggplant may be salty already.



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