Ratatouille Riggies: Eggplant Marinara with Rigatoni and Zucchini

(This picture is not my own, it's Rachael Ray's!)
Someone gave me this recipe from an issue of Rachael Ray's magazine. Last night my roommate and I were celebrating the return of our amazing friend so we all whipped this little number up together, had some wine, and danced all over our apartment. It was lovely! This recipe really surprised me with some awesome flavor. I didn't really read through the recipe before we started cooking and I think I was just expecting it to taste like plain ol' pasta with marinara and some veggies. I was wrong! The eggplant marinara sauce was AWESOME and the fried zucchini added some really wonderful flavor to the dish as well. We decided instantly that this needed to become one of our staple meals. I served this with some toasted baguette slices and some vino!

(I would like to note that I unfortunately did not take any pictures during the making of this dish simply because I forgot to... I apologize! Luckily I do have some pics of the finished product and I pulled a sweet move where I took a picture of the magazine article as well!)

(Serves 6)

1 lb. small, firm eggplant
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 lb. rigatoni rigate or other short-cut pasta of your liking
2 small, firm zucchini (about 1 lb.), thinly sliced
Flour, for coating (I think we used maybe 1/3 cup-ish)
3 large cloves of garlic, grated or chopped
1 onion, finely chopped (we used shallots just because)
A couple sprigs of rosemary, finely chopped, or a healthy tsp. of dried leaves
A few sprigs of thyme, finely chopped, or a scant tsp. of dried leaves
1 cup vegetable stock
1 large red pepper, roasted*
2 tbsp. tomato paste
28 oz. can of plum tomatoes in puree
Crushed red pepper (optional)
A handful fresh basil, chopped or torn

1. Preheat the oven to 450. Halve the eggplant and score the exposed flesh with shallow crisscross cuts. Drizzle or lightly brush the cut surface with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet cut side down and roast until tender, 15-18 minutes. *At this time we also threw the red pepper in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil as well, to roast it for the marinara sauce.*

2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain.

3. While the pasta is working, season the zucchini slices with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, heat 2 tbsp. of olive oil over medium-high heat. Place flour in a shallow bowl and lightly coat the zucchini slices in flour. Working in batches, add the zucchini to the pan and cook, turning, until light golden, 1-2 minutes per batch. Add 1 clove of garlic to the last batch. Place zucchini on a plate, cover, and set aside to keep it warm.

4. In a large, deep skillet or heavy saucepan, heat the remaining 2 tbsp. of olive oil over medium heat. Add the remaining 2 cloves of garlic, onion, rosemary, thyme, and some salt and pepper. Cook until tender, 5-6 minutes.

5. Using a food processor (A blender worked just fine for us), mix the vegetable stock, roasted pepper (slice it up beforehand), and tomato paste until smooth. Add mixture the the onion mixture on the stove and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Stir in the canned tomatoes and crush with a wooden spoon or potato masher. Return the sauce to a boil for a minute or so. Season with the crushed red pepper, if using. Lower the heat to a simmer.

6. Remove the eggplant from the oven (if you haven't already!). Scoop out the flesh and place in the blender/food processor. Puree for 20 seconds and add to the marinara sauce.

7. Toss the pasta with the marinara sauce and top with fresh basil and fried zucchini slices. Enjoy!