Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Creamy Eggplant and Arugula Pasta with Pine Nuts and Cream Cheese

Whole wheat pasta and I are becoming friends. It's all very high school - I hated it on first site but over time think we actually might be bffs. At the very least I've figured out I don't mind the texture when paired with cream sauces and sauteed vegetables - in fact I think its slight chewy bite enhances these ingredients (tomato sauce, not so much. Takes me back to my first impression - cardboard.)

Kris humored me in eating this even though he's not an eggplant fan. What is it with men and eggplant and butternut squash? Or rather - what is it with women and these two vegetables? Every girl I know adores them while every man I know is like...eh. One boy friend had this explanation to offer - "Butternut squash is like eating baby food. It's boring." This really ramped up the debate, but that's for another post.

Back to the pasta, DO NOT toss out your pasta water after you strain the pasta from it. It's crucial to breaking up the cream cheese and making a nice velvety sauce. And just remember, you don't have to salt baby or 'Chinese' eggplant before cooking but it does take a while to saute and become cooperative. Do yourself a favor and put a pot of water over a boil the same time you begin cooking the eggplant, then wait 20 minutes before adding your pasta to the water as the eggplant needs that much of a head start. If the water begins boiling way before the 20 minute mark, it's okay. Just let it go quietly on a back burner until you're ready to put it to work.

Creamy Eggplant and Arugula Pasta with Pine Nuts and Cream Cheese
Serves 6-8.

13.25 oz box whole wheat short pasta, such as ziti or spirals
handful salt
4 oz reduced fat cream cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra
6 baby (or Chinese) eggplant, roughly 5 inches in length, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
kosher salt, for seasoning
fresh black pepper, for seasoning
good grating fresh nutmeg
good pinch red pepper flakes
2 cups shredded parmesan

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts, toasted in a 325 oven for 6-8 minutes until light golden
1 package arugula

Put your largest pot filled with water over high heat for the pasta. Wait 20 minutes after you get the eggplant going (should be boiling by now, of course) before salting with a handful of salt and adding the pasta. Cook for 6-7 minutes or JUST until al dente at which point you should be ready to strain and transfer to your eggplant mixture.

For the eggplant mixture, add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a large, rimmed, nonstick skillet and put over medium heat (you may need to add another dash or so as it cooks - just keep an eye out to see if the bottom of the pan dries out too badly during cooking.) Once warm (give it 30 seconds or so), add the eggplant, salting well and seasoning with pepper. Cook, stirring every so often, for about 20 minutes (at this point you can add the pasta to the boiling water.) Continue sauteeing the eggplant, and season with a good grating of fresh nutmeg and a hefty pinch of red pepper flakes. The eggplant should be nice and tender after few more minutes at which point you can stir in the cream cheese, breaking it up with your fingers to help it melt in. Once smooth, add in the parmesan, killing the heat. Add in the drained pasta, along with a ladle or two of the pasta water to help create the sauce. Once blended, add in the arugula and pine nuts, tossing lightly. I like for the arugula to retain its punch and not wilt down too much, but it's just a personal preference. Taste for seasoning (I alway like a little more of the red pepper flakes) and serve.


Bridgett said...

Great recipe! My husband dislikes eggplant as well and I just don't get it, lol. I definitely couldn't get away with the whole wheat pasta as you did but the rest is definitely a dish worth making. Love it!

Velva said...

I love eggplant and butternut squash too. I must have done okay in the "man" department as my husband enjoys it as well.
I really like the idea of using some of the hot pasta water to assist in making the sauce creamy-excellent idea.

I am still working on my relationship with whole wheat pasta. :-)

Cinnamon-Girl said...

How absolutely delicious! Love the cream cheese sauce - it does sound good with the whole wheat pasta. I think it's all in how the eggplant and squash are prepared - how could any man resist this dish?

Karen said...

I never thought I would care for whole wheat pasta - until I tried it. Even the smell of it as I was taking it out of the package was nutty and wonderful. As soon as I finish my regular 'white' pasta, I'm going whole wheat all the way!