Family dinner is one of my favorite things. It’s our family’s way of connecting, spending time together, and sharing beautiful moments together. My intention has always been creating meals that the kids will remember through the senses, and always associate them with memories of family, belonging, and love. Taste and smell can do that, so I try to use it to my advantage as best I can. On the other side of that, I am a mom of three -soon to be four- and creating meals that are time consuming, expensive or complicated isn’t usually in my repertoire. To be honest, I prefer to keep things quite basic. I truly believe (and have experienced) that some of the best foods are put together with simplicity, but with quality ingredients. Family dinner ideas are always on my mind, and I try to be creative (but again, simple) with what I’m cooking and serving, because I like exposing the kids to a wide variety of foods. Pasta is a common go-to for me when it comes to family dinner ideas, because it’s universally liked, fairly quick, inexpensive and you can get really creative with it. Last week I made a pasta with eggplant and sausage that the whole family absolutely loved. I included a little garlic, and canned tomatoes, but not much else. The kids have been asking me to make it again and again, so I knew I had to share it.
Eggplants are still plentiful at the farmers market, and it’s funny to think there was a time that I wouldn’t touch an eggplant. For a long time eggplants assumed the role of “mystery vegetable” in my life, for I never knew just how to cook them. I always dodged them at the grocery store, cherry-picking around them in efforts to dodge discomfort in my own kitchen. For years I admired the darkest of the dark purples, or scratch-pattern graffiti beauties without a clue of how to really make a decent eggplant dish. Even more so, I admired the eggplant recipes I saw in books and on restaurant menus. Home and restaurant chefs muster such know-how with these lovely aubergines: Eggplant fries with creole basil aioli, pasta with eggplant and parmesan, eggplant bruschetta… How could I, too, muster such know-how, confidence and creativity with them? Spoiler alert: just like family dinner ideas, eggplant is best when it’s done simply.
This pasta with eggplant and sausage is the a great example of convenient family dinner ideas. Of course, if you’re vegetarian you can leave out the sausage or substitute it with mushrooms. This dish is not quite a classic style tomato sauce, but more like a chunky, thick blend of vegetables, with a slight amount of sauciness to coat the pasta. The vegetables are sautéed in a generous amount of olive oil, and the canned tomatoes are strained ahead of time, so that the sauce doesn’t ever get a thin, watery consistency. The chili flakes add a bit of heat which my kids will tolerate, but if yours don’t or you prefer no to add them you can leave them out!
Pasta With Eggplant and Sausage:
1) Start by chopping the eggplant into about 1/2-1″ cubes, and set aside. Additionally, finely chop the garlic, and cut the sausage into thin rounds.
2) Take the the tomatoes out of the can one at a time. Cut or tear them in half so that any liquid inside them is released, and then place each half into a strainer. Set the strainer over a large bowl (or somewhere the tomato juice can strain out without making a huge mess of tomato juice!) for about 10-15 minutes. After the tomatoes have strained thoroughly set them on a cutting board and roughly chop them. Any amount of tomato sauce that was thick enough to be left in the strainer will also be used in the sauce, so don’t toss it!
2) Once all of ingredients are prepped you can start cooking. Set a large pot of lightly salted water to boil for the pasta (your choice, though I prefer fettuccini). Boil the pasta until al dente, and be sure to reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water before straining it.
3) Set a large pan on medium-low and add the olive oil and garlic. Saute the garlic about 2-3 minutes, then add the chili flakes. Cook for another 30 seconds, and then add the eggplant.
4) Saute the eggplant about 4-5 minutes, stirring every so often. Continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes, stirring every so often.
5) Add the chopped tomatoes, and any additional sauce that was left in the strainer. Stir well, and season with salt, pepper, and herbs, and turn down the heat to allow to allow it to simmer for a few minutes.
6) Finally add the sausage and reserved pasta water into the sauce. Allow to simmer for 2-3 more minutes, and then turn off the heat.
7) Lastly, pour the pasta into the pan of sauce and mix everything together thoroughly so that all of the pasta is lightly coated. Feel free to taste and add salt as needed.
8) Serve immediately, sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan cheese.
Eggplant Sausage Pasta
- 3 Tbsp Olive oil, plus more for cooking
- 1 Large Eggplant, chopped into 1" cubes
- 3-4 Cloves Garlic, finely chopped
- 1 28 oz. Can Whole, Peeled Tomatoes, strained and chopped
- 1/2 Lb Sweet Italian Sausage, precooked and sliced into rounds
- 1 Lb Pasta of your choice (I used linguini for this recipe)
- 1/2 Cup Pasta Water reserved
- 2 tsp Dried thyme
- 1 tsp Dried oregano
- 1/4-1/2 tsp Dried chili flakes
- Salt + Pepper, to taste
- Grated parmesan for topping (optional)
- Fresh basil for garnish (optional)
For the Pasta
- Set a large pot of water on the stove to boil, with a small handful of salt, for your 1 lb of pasta.
- Once the pasta water is boiling, stir immediately for a minute or so and then allow to cook until al dente. Before straining, reserve 1/4 Cup of pasta water for the sauce to simmer in.
- If you cook the pasta ahead of time, drizzle a bit of olive oil on it after straining, so that it doesn't stick together! Set aside and make the sauce.
For the Sauce
- Open the can of tomatoes and dump the tomatoes into a strainer. Use your hands to break open each tomato, since there is also a lot of water inside the tomato. Allow the tomatoes to strain while you start cooking the rest of your vegetables.
- In a large pan add a few lugs of olive oil, the garlic and set the heat to medium-low.
- Saute the garlic about 2-3 minutes, stirring every so often so that it doesn't burn.
- After the garlic has cooked 2-3 minutes add the chili flakes and allow them to cook for about 30 seconds. Then add the chopped eggplant and allow the eggplant to saute about 5-6 minutes. Stir every so often, but during the time, chop the strained tomatoes, and set aside any puree that has been left in the strainer.
- Once the eggplant has browned slightly (about 5-6 minutes), add the tomatoes and any tomato puree/sauce leftover in the strainer, as well as the thyme, oregano, a good sprinkle of salt and pepper.
- Add the few tablespoons of olive oil to the eggplant, tomato and garlic and turn the heat on low. Allow the tomatoes to cook and break down slightly for about 5 minutes.
- Add the sausage and reserved 1/4 cup of pasta water, and simmer on low for an additional 3-4 minutes.
- Once everything has cooked together into a thick, chunky, slightly saucy vegetable medley, add all of the pasta into the pan. (If you're afraid your pan won't be big enough, you can alternatively pour the pasta back into the pot after cooking and then mix the veggie sauce into the pasta instead).
- Season with a bit more salt and pepper as needed, and mix until all of the pasta is evenly coated. Add roughly chopped basil and garnish with a generous sprinkle of parmesan.
Hi! I’m Amber Rogals, a food photographer and recipe developer in Maine.
Thanks for visiting! I also serve the New England area and beyond, and write and photograph regularly for my food blog, Downeats. I absolutely love cooking and developing recipes with seasonal foods, and gathering with loved ones to enjoy everything. I grew up on the coast of Maine and pretty much never left. I currently live here in Maine with my (gorgeous, amazing, hardworking) high school sweetheart and our (hilarious, talented and wonderful) three kids. I love capturing shared moments, and inspiring others to cook, eat, gather, and live slow. You can read more about me here. If you are looking for a food photographer, food stylist or recipe developer please contact me here.