What I’m calling mediterranea is a sauce made from an assortment of veggies and herbs common in Italy this time of year: zucchini, eggplant, bell pepper, basil, and so on. This dish is super flavorful and nicely-textured, colorful on the plate, and quite healthy (if you’re into that sort of thing). Skip the ricotta and it’s a vegan dish.
350 grams mezze maniche or penne pasta
1/2 an eggplant
1 red bell pepper
2 zucchini (plus their flowers, if available)
1 small handful of capers (if salt-packed, rinsed)
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 a red onion (Tropea, if possible)
1 small red chili pepper (dried or fresh)
salt & pepper
grated ricotta salata for topping
Start by setting the pasta water to boil, salted. Mince the garlic and onion together. Crumble or chop the chili pepper, removing the seeds especially if the pepper is fresh. Cube the eggplant. Dice the bell pepper. Slice the zucchini into half-rounds (after removing the flowers). Roughly chop the capers. Have the basil and oregano, zucchini flowers, and grated cheese prepped and set aside.
Heat a generous amount of olive oil (4 to 5 Tbls at least) in a large pan. When very hot, add the onion/garlic, chili pepper, and the eggplant. Begin tossing immediately and quickly to get as much of the veg evenly covered in oil as possible. Cook on medium-high for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the eggplant is softened. If it starts to stick, add some spoonfuls of the pasta water and stir. Add the bell pepper, zucchini, and capers, combine and cook for another 5 minutes. The total cooking time should not be more than 10-12 minutes. Taste before salting, as the capers and the ricotta cheese are both rather salty. It should not need much but a a very light sprinkle of salt at this point along with a good amount of fresh ground pepper is a good idea.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente. When ready, strain and add the pasta to the vegetable sauce and stir thoroughly. Now dust with pinches of dried oregano and tear in some of the fresh basil and the pieces of the zucchini flower. Combine gently, then serve with the grated ricotta and another leaf or two of fresh basil.