Ziti piccanti ai capperi, melanzane e menta

From “Italy by Ingredient: Artisanal Foods / Modern Recipes”
by Viola Buitoni (Rizzoli, September 2023)

Eggplant, capers, and mint are a felicitous yet ubiquitous flavor combination whose parentage is impossible to attribute. I can’t consciously call this recipe mine, but I can call it accessible and joyful. I like to use Japanese eggplants because they’re virtually seedless and can be cut in just-the-right-size wheels, but feel free to use other kinds and slice them into manageable-size bites.

Ziti piccanti ai capperi, melanzane e menta
Spicy ziti with eggplant, capers, and mint

for 5 to 6 people

salt as needed
3 Tbsp /1oz / 30g capers packed in salt
1 garlic clove
1 Japanese eggplant (see headnote)
4 tablespoons / 60 mL extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato concentrate (or paste)
1⁄2 cup / 10g loosely packed mint leaves
Red chili flakes
1 package (1 pound / 450 g) ziti

Fill a pot with 3 quarts / 3 L water, cover it, and set it over heat to come to a boil.

Put the capers into a tea strainer and run under hot water to melt away all the visible salt. Rinse well and leave to soak in warm water while you are readying the rest of the ingredients.

Slant the blade of your knife until it is almost parallel to the cutting board and use the heel of your hand to gently press the blade down on the garlic clove until you’ve cracked the skin. Peel the garlic clove and leave it whole. Slice the eggplant as thinly as possible into rounds.

Pour 3 tablespoons of the oil into a frying pan large enough to contain the eggplant slices in a single layer and place it over medium heat. Place a plate next to the stove and line it with a paper towel. When the fragrance of oil hits your nostrils decisively, add the eggplant and pan fry until the slices become pliant and glossy. Lift a slice from the oil with tongs and if it has some brown caramelization spots, turn it over and panfry the other side. Transfer the eggplant slices to the paper-towel-lined plate.

Drain the capers and toss them into the oil used to cook the eggplant. Add the garlic clove, tomato concentrate and 6 or 7 mint leaves of mint then douse with 2 c / 475 ml hot water. Season with chili to best suit your glee for heat–I like about 1/2 teaspoon–stir well to dilute the concentrate, turn the heat on to medium, and let simmer to reduce by about one-third. The water should be boiling by now. Season it with 1 tablespoon salt, stir in the pasta, and cover the pot. Set a timer for 2 minutes shy of the suggested
cooking time. When the water starts to boil again, remove the lid and adjust the heat so that the water is at a lively but not rolling boil.

The sauce will be ready in the time it takes the pasta to cook. It should be loosely velvety in appearance, runny but not watery. Sample the sauce and adjust the salt to your liking. Return the eggplant to the pan.

When the timer goes off, fish the ziti out of the water with a handheld strainer and add them to the sauce, with 2 to 3 tablespoons of the pasta cooking water. Raise the heat to the highest setting and toss and twirl the pasta for an additional minute or two to finish cooking.

Add the last tablespoon of olive oil and transfer to a warm platter. Garnish with the remaining mint and serve right away.

all recipes by Viola Buitoni

From “Italy by Ingredient: Artisanal Foods / Modern Recipes”
by Viola Buitoni (Rizzoli, September 2023)