Food has an amazing ability to transport you to times long past. I remember the first time I tried Pasta ‘Ncasciata like it was yesterday. I was in Taormina, my father-in-law’s birth place, a stunning hilltop town on the east coast of Sicily. It was a warm yet breezy day. We had done plenty of exploring and our feet were sore and our bellies hungry. We sat overlooking Isola Bella, washing the ‘Ncasciata down with a beautiful glass of Nero d’Avola while an older gentleman played his mandolin singing “O Sole Mio” in the background. It was a perfect moment in time, and every time I make this dish it takes me back to that moment.
‘Ncasciata is dialect for “in cassata,” meaning in a mould, form or dish. It’s a compressed baked pasta dish that is surrounded by slices of eggplant and turned out of its baking dish. It is cooked in many towns throughout Sicily and Calabria, Italy. The Mutti passata and double concentrated tomato paste work perfectly to create a sweet and intense tomato sauce, that coats the pasta and helps bind the pasta together with the other ingredients so that the dome can keep its form.
4-6 large eggplants
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil
700g Mutti passata tomato puree
1 cup water
2 tablespoons Mutti double concentrated tomato paste
Salt, for seasoning
Pepper, for seasoning
8 large basil leaves, chopped
Olive oil spray
500g Rigatoni or Tortiglioni pasta
150g salami, chopped
150g smoked mozzarella, cut into small cubes
1 cup grated good quality parmesan cheese
3 hard boiled eggs, chopped
2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
To serve – extra Parmesan cheese and chilli (optional)
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius or 160 degrees Celsius fan forced.
Trim the stalks from the eggplants and slice lengthways into even slices about 5mm thick. Sprinkle the slices with salt and place on a rack or colander to drain off excess liquid for at least 1 hour.
While the eggplants drain, in a frypan sauté the garlic in the oil. Add passata, water and tomato paste. Season with salt & pepper and simmer stirring occasionally over low-medium heat for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the chopped basil. Set aside.
Pat eggplant slices with a paper towel to soak up excess water. Spray eggplant slices with oil and fry on a heavy grilled frypan for 2-3 minutes on each side.
Oil a 30cm heatproof bowl and line it with the eggplant slices. Slightly overlap the slices so there are no spaces. If you have eggplant leftover, finely chop it and set aside.
Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water until ‘al dente’. Drain well and place in a large bowl. Add the sauce, salami, cheeses, eggs, pine nuts, parsley and any extra chopped eggplant. Gently stir through until all the ingredients have combined.
Spoon the pasta mixture into the eggplant lined bowl and press down gently to eliminate any gaps. Fold over any ends of the eggplant. Cover and bake for 20 minutes. Rest for at least 15 minutes after the dish has been removed from the oven.
Place a large serving platter on top of the bowl and quickly turn both the bowl and plate over. Remove the bowl slowly off the plate to reveal your Pasta ‘ncasciata. Serve with extra parmesan cheese and chopped chilli.