Rigatoni with Eggplant & Pine Nut Crunch

Fresh vegetables from the garden shine in dishes during the summer months, adding a layer of depth to meals that can not be duplicated in Iowa during the winter months.  I recently enjoyed a splendid rigatoni with eggplant and pine nut crunch at my friend’s house.  She is a great source of support for me as I am learning more about wines and expanding my memory bank of wine flavors.  She generously saved the recipe from Epicurious for me, knowing that it would be useful for me to use in my blog as an accompaniment to the tasting notes I was making about the Alamos Red Blend, made primarily of Malbec grapes, we drank throughout the meal.  The spicy notes of the wine paired nicely with the hearty vegetables used in the recipe.

She even sent me off with some homemade pesto and a bunch of basil leaves to take home, as I had commented about how relaxing I find the scent of basil.  I placed them in a vase beside my bed and enjoyed the best night sleep I had encountered in awhile. Basil rivals the sleep qualities of lavender in my book any day.

Rigatoni with Eggplant and Pine Nut Crunch

non-stick vegetable oil spray

1 unpeeled large eggplant (1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds), cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2 medium yellow bell peppers, cut into 1/2 inch squares

2 cups grape tomatoes

2 large garlic cloves, divided

1/3 cup olive oil

2 cups (firmly packed) fresh basil leaves, divided

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided

1/4 cup pine nuts

1 (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1 pound rigatoni

1 pound whole-milk mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

** I know my friend adjusted this recipe slightly, making her own homemade pesto sauce to mix in and using actual whole tomatoes versus canned.  Make any adjustments to your own taste preference. Any hearty vegetables such as zucchini and yellow squash would work beautifully in this recipe. **

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Spray large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray; add  eggplant and peppers. Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise; add to sheet. Using  garlic press, squeeze 1 garlic clove onto vegetables. Drizzle vegetables with  oil; toss. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast vegetables until tender,  stirring often, 35 to 45 minutes.

Combine 2/3 cup basil,  1/2 cup Parmesan, pine nuts, and 1 garlic clove in mini processor. Blend until  crumbly. Season topping with salt.

Blend tomatoes with  juice, cream, 1 1/3 cups basil, and 1 garlic clove in processor until smooth.  Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Cook pasta in pot of  boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring  occasionally; drain. Return to pot. Toss with vegetables, sauce, and 1/2 cup  Parmesan. Transfer to 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with mozzarella and  pine nut topping.

Bake pasta until heated  through, 25 to 35 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes and serve.

Makes 8 servings.