Pasta ’Ncasciata (Sicilian Baked Pasta)

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This hearty baked pasta dish is packed with tender eggplant, melty caciocavallo cheese, and crushed tomatoes.

Pasta ’Ncasciata (Sicilian Baked Pasta)
Photo:

Fred Hardy II / Food Styling by Emily Nabors Hall / Prop Styling by Christina Daley

Active Time:
1 hrs 10 mins
Total Time:
1 hrs 50 mins
Servings:
8 servings

In Sicily, ’ncasciata has many variations. Chef Michael Gulotta’s version combines tender eggplant, buttery caciocavallo cheese, and crushed tomatoes with al dente rigatoni. Baking the eggplant rounds rather than frying them cuts down on the prep time. Caciocavallo cheese is available at specialty cheese shops or online at murrayscheese.com.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound uncooked rigatoni

  • 2 small eggplants (about 1 1/2 pounds), unpeeled, stemmed, and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick rounds

  • 5 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

  • 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided

  • 12 ounces ground pork

  • 1 medium-size (10-ounce) yellow onion, chopped (about 1 3/4 cups)

  • 8 garlic cloves, finely chopped (about 3 tablespoons)

  • 2 (28-ounces) cans whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand and juices reserved

  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste

  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar

  • 1 cup fresh or frozen sweet peas (optional)

  • 12 large basil leaves, thinly sliced (about 1/3 cup), plus more for garnish

  • 8 ounces caciocavallo or provolone cheese, grated (about 2 cups)

  • 2 1/2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high. Add pasta, and cook according to package instructions for al dente. Drain well, and spread pasta in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Set aside until ready to use.

  2. While pasta cooks, arrange eggplant rounds evenly on a paper towel–lined baking sheet; sprinkle 2 teaspoons salt over both sides of eggplant rounds. Let stand 10 minutes. Pat dry with paper towels.

  3. Brush 2 tablespoons oil evenly on 2 baking sheets. Arrange eggplant rounds in a single layer on baking sheets, and brush 2 tablespoons oil evenly over eggplant rounds. Roast in preheated oven until softened and starting to brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, and set aside until ready to use. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

  4. While eggplant roasts, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan over medium-high. Add pork and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring to break up meat into small pieces, until pork is browned, about 8 minutes. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Stir in crushed tomatoes and juices, tomato paste, sugar, and remaining 3 teaspoons salt; bring to a simmer over medium-high. Reduce heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have broken down completely into sauce, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Fold in cooked pasta, peas (if using), and sliced basil.

  5. Spread half of the pasta mixture (about 6 cups) in bottom of a 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Top with half of the eggplant and 1 cup caciocavallo. Repeat layers once with remaining pasta mixture, remaining eggplant, and remaining caciocavallo. Sprinkle evenly with Parmigiano-Reggiano.

  6. Cover baking dish with parchment paper, and wrap tightly with aluminum foil. Bake at 350°F until filling is bubbly around the edges and in center (you will need to unwrap the baking dish to check), about 30 minutes. Remove foil and parchment paper, and bake until cheese is golden and bubbly, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven. Garnish with additional basil, and serve.

Suggested Pairing

Dark-fruited Sicilian red: Feudo Montoni Lagnusa Nero d’Avola

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