This recipe adapts well: You can choose hot or sweet fennel-flavored sausage, mellow black olives or tart green ones, fresh mozzarella or the ordinary supermarket kind. When you’re ready to bake: The secret to crisping the top without drying out the filling is a high oven temperature.
Aglianico from Campania is a natural with the southern Italian flavors of eggplant, olive and tomato; recommended producers include Mastroberardino, Feudi di San Gregorio and Villa Matilde.
- 1 pound hot or sweet Italian sausage links
- 1 medium eggplant, halved lengthwise and cut in 1/2-inch rounds
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher or sea salt
- 2 small garlic cloves, lightly crushed
- 1 can (35-ounce) whole plum tomatoes in their juices
- 1/2 cup flavorful pitted black or green olives, slivered
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound rigatoni
- 1 1/2 cups coarsely grated mozzarella
- 1 cup grated Pecorino Romano
- 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
In a broiler pan, cook the sausages, turning them, until browned all over and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Cool on paper toweling, then cut on the diagonal into 1/2-inch slices.
Blot the eggplant rounds with paper towels. Heat the 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat in a skillet (or two) large enough to hold all the eggplant in a single layer. Fry the slices, turning once, until browned and tender. Transfer to paper toweling and sprinkle lightly with salt.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook the garlic until golden; remove and discard. Add the tomatoes and their juices, crushing the tomatoes with your fingers. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt. Simmer briskly until fairly dense, about 10 minutes. Add the olives and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, bring 6 quarts cold water and 2 tablespoons salt to a boil in a large pan. Add the rigatoni, stir well, and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta and return to the saucepan; mix in the tomato sauce.
To assemble: Spoon half of the sauced pasta into an oiled 12- by 8-inch baking dish. Arrange the sausage and eggplant slices on top. Sprinkle with the mozzarella and half of the Pecorino. Spoon the remaining pasta on top. Combine the remaining Pecorino with the bread crumbs and sprinkle evenly over the top. Cover the dish with aluminum foil. (At this point, the dish can be held an hour or two at room temperature or, refrigerated, up to 12 hours. If refrigerated, bring to room temperature before baking.)
To bake: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Bake the pasta, covered, until heated through, about 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the topping is lightly browned, about 5 minutes.