Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hansel & Gretel Pasta: Orecchiette with Roasted Eggplant & Ricotta

Cinnamon and cocoa powder.
Reminiscent of a decadent dessert, no?
Well, what if I told you that these two flavors could form the incredible basis for one of the best savory summer dishes you'd tasted yet? Would you believe me?

I promise you I'm not blowing smoke.
The truth is, when I came back from a week's vacation in Wisconsin's North Woods on Saturday, the last thing I expected was to be making a dish with cocoa powder, cinnamon, and eggplant. But, life is an unexpected thing. And sometimes it surprises you.

The fairytale begins... once upon a time, with a few pounds of "Hansel & Gretel" eggplants from the West Allis farmer's market (stereotypically, the "Gretel" eggplants are smaller and white; "Hansels" are slightly larger and black).
I'd always been inspired by Greek dishes (like moussaka) that combine cinnamon and eggplant. And I'd recently read something about Sicilian caponanta made with a pinch of cocoa powder -- meant to tame the bitterness in eggplant. So, the concept really wasn't at outlandish as it seemed.

I chopped up the eggplant, along with a couple of sweet Wisconsin-grown Walla Walla onions. And I tossed them with a bit of cinnamon and cocoa powder. I arranged them on a baking sheet and Peef drizzed them with a bit of olive oil. Then we tossed them into a 425ºF oven to roast.
While the eggplant was roasting, I chopped up some raw walnuts -- which we'd add to the roasting eggplant about 10-15 minutes before it was finished roasting.
Peef stepped outside to pick a handful of fresh Italian parsley from the herb garden.I chopped the parsley and added it, along with about a cup of grated pecorino romano, to a tub of whole milk ricotta cheese.
We whipped the cheese and parsley together and set it aside for a bit while we cooked up some orecchiette pasta.When the pasta was finished cooking, we added it to the ricotta cheese mixture, along with some of the pasta water.
About the same time, we noticed an incredible aroma emanating from the oven and wafting throughout the kitchen. It was sweet -- and yet, somehow, not sugary. The odor of the cinnamon was unmistakeable, but the cocoa powder was... less obvious. It melded strangely (yet solidly) with the scent of the rapidly caramelizing onions. And, somehow, the whole entourage married itself to the roasting eggplant, forming a complex union. When we took the steaming pans from the oven, we couldn't resist sneaking a taste.
OhMY! It was positively fabulous.
We mixed the eggplant and onions with the creamy ricotta cheese and we held our heads over the top of the serving bowl to take in the full aroma.
Creamy, but not heavy. Sweet and caramelized, but definitely savory. The walnuts not only brought forward a distinct nuttiness, but they added a nice bit of texture to an otherwise smooth dish. A bit of crusty garlic bread, and we were all set.
I love it when dinner turns out with a fairytale ending.

Hansel & Gretel Pasta: Orecchiette with Roasted Eggplant & Ricotta


The End.

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22 comments:

  1. This is a neat recipe incorporating cinnamon and cocoa powder! Will have to try to make this for my daughter, she will love the name and the cocoa in it of course!

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  2. Sweet and savory main dishes are always intriguing. I can't say I'm a fan of eggplant, but this does look quite appetizing.

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  3. Gorgeous. I do a little recipe swap on Friday. Feel free to drop by any day of the week and link up something you've whipped up in the kitchen. Here's the link:

    http://momtrends.blogspot.com/2009/08/friday-feast-momtrends-summer-chicken.html

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  4. I love orechiette pasta! And I'm growing a similar eggplant. This is a fantastic dish.

    I used cinnamon and cocoa in my chili last night, to give it a mole-esque aroma. Such a lovely combo.

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  5. Mmmm, I'm pretty certain I'd like this dish. I really like all the flavors. I wish I was more daring and creative.
    ~ingrid

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  6. Oh, I believe you! Cinnamon is one of my favorites for savory cooking, and I use the duo in chili a lot. Haven't combined the two in much beyond that but you can bet I'm going to do it now! I recently made ricotta from fresh goat's milk and it was so incredibly different from store-bought.

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  7. Oh yum! Love the addition of cinnamon. I think I just might try it too!

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  8. OH WOW does this sounds delicious!! I love when new flavor combinations come out so great!

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  9. Never would have thought to combine those flavors into a savory dish!

    Wish I liked eggplant!

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  10. MMMM,..this is my kind of fine food,..I love aubergines & ricotta!!! Yummie yum!!

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  11. I really love this!! You had me with the roasted eggplant and then when I saw ricotta I was over the moon! What a wonderfully comforting and tasty bowl of pasta.

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  12. Looks and sounds awesome!!
    Thanks for the recipe
    Great site! :)

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  13. Wow, this is totally new to me, cinnamon and cocoa powder, eggplant and pasta? I definitely have to try it! Sounds very different and I am sure that taste fantastic :-)

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  14. I don't have words for how delicious this looks to me. The flavors are just so earthy and enticing, with that creamy ricotta....mmmrrrmmmm....... I love the Tunisian flare in this dish! Seriously, I could eat the hell out of that pasta given half a chance.

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  15. Isn't it great when you discover an unlikely food combination? I just did recently as well- Fried eggs, sunny-side up with a chopped lettuce and vingarette. This eggplant dish looks delicious!

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  16. this sounds AMAZING... really interesting

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  17. So creative, and i love how the pasta is so creamy!

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  18. This looks great! I would have never thought of cinnamon and cocoa in a pasta, but I will have to give it a try since I love eggplant and ricotta. I think I'll sub out the walnuts for some pine nuts though, because I've never learned to like walnuts. :-)

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  19. Cocoa and cinnamon with eggplant is very much unexpected. At least I never heard about it before. I love all the ingredinets in this dish.

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  20. This is such a great idea! Sounds like a delicious mix of flavors.

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  21. This was amazing!!! I made it last October and forgot all about it. I had a million of these eggplants growing. This meal reminds me of something you'd eat when you're in a cabin in the mountains sitting by the fire, it's all cold and snowy outside. The cinnamon and cocoa is amazing with the walnuts and mild ricotta flavor. This is a very warm and cozy tasting meal. VERY different that what I am used to, I like the BANG of flavor, but THIS meal you don't need that bang. It's amazing just as it is!

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