Recipe: Rigatoni with Eggplant, Marjoram, and Cinnamon Ricotta
You’ve got to get over to your local Greenmarket right now and see if you can find these gorgeous Sicilian eggplants. Migliorelli Farm in the Hudson Valley grows them and trucks them down to the Union Square market in Manhattan. Not only are they beautiful, but their flavor is amazing. They’ve got almost no seeds. Their flesh is white and creamy, with no bitterness. Another great thing about them is their low water content, which allows for a nice, even browning, perfect for use in a pasta sauce. I knew I’d have to go all-out Sicilian when I eyed these huge things.
This is actually a very simple recipe, but it’s one with unusual flavor. Marjoram is one of my favorite herbs. It’s a gentle cousin to oregano, but the differences in taste are profound. Marjoram has a deep floral perfume with none of the acrid taste that fresh (or dried) oregano can have. I just love it. And when it’s mingled with a touch of cinnamon and the sweet eggplant, well, you might as well be dining at a trattoria in Palermo.
As much as I’ve gone on about these Sicilian eggplants, you can really use any summer eggplant for this pasta. Eggplants are having a very good year, with all the heat, so whatever you buy that’s local is bound to be excellent.
Rigatoni with Eggplant, Marjoram, and Cinnamon Ricotta
(Serves 4 as a main course)
For the ricotta:
1½ cups very fresh ricotta
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon sugar
A pinch of salt
For the pasta:
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 large summer garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 cups diced eggplant, the skin left on
A generous pinch of ground cinnamon
¼ cup sweet Marsala
4 or 5 medium-size round summer tomatoes, skinned, seeded, diced (about 2½ cups or so), and lightly drained if very watery
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound rigatoni
About 6 or 7 large marjoram sprigs, the leaves only, plus a few small sprigs for garnish
A small chunk of mild pecorino cheese
In a small bowl mix all the ricotta ingredients together, and let sit at room temperature.
Set up a large pot of pasta cooking water, and bring it to a boil.
In a large skillet, heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium flame. Add the garlic, the eggplant, and the cinnamon at the same time, and sauté until the eggplant is fragrant and golden, about 7 minutes or so. Add the Marsala, and let it boil away. Add the tomatoes, seasoning with salt and black pepper. Let simmer at a low bubble for about 8 minutes, just until the eggplant is cooked through and some of the tomato liquid has evaporated. Turn off the heat.
Add a generous amount of salt to the pasta water and drop in the rigatoni.
When the rigatoni is al dente, drain it, and pour it into a large serving bowl. Reheat the eggplant sauce if necessary, and pour it over the pasta. Toss, adding about a tablespoon of grated pecorino and the marjoram leaves.
Serve in pasta bowls with a dollop of the cinnamon ricotta on top. Garnish with marjoram sprigs, and pass around the chunk of pecorino for grating.