Baked ziti, penne or rigatoni pasta with bacon and roasted aubergine: it does not drown in cheese, there is no tomato sauce, and it is not a million calories like your usual pasta bake. Roasted mashed aubergine flesh provides the sauce and the pasta goes into the oven for the crunchy and crispy edges.
If there is afterlife, I hope I qualify for the Good Place. It may be too much to hope for, seeing as I am not a particularly saintly person, but on the other hand there must be many, many worse than me. So okay, maybe not the top echelons of heaven, singing with angels, hosannas and hallelujahs, but I dare say I’d qualify for an Allright Place.
I wouldn’t much care for the singing anyway, as my forays into mic nights were always welcome with friends’ cries of despair. I wouldn’t appreciate the flowing robes and wings either, being more of a cargo pants and hiking boots kinda girl. My idea of heaven is some place I can cook for people, watch lots of trashy telly and have a gigantic swimming pool in my back garden.
And where I can eat pasta every day.
So what if my vision of heaven is an averagely successful Italian chef’s lifestyle? Many of us aspire to what seems commonplace to the few. What disgruntles me the most is that with all the pasta they eat, Italian women are actually skinny: the average female Italian BMI is 24.4 (average! only one up from me? so most must be skinny as anything?!). Go figure: the vision of the tubby Italian nonnas is fading into the distance.
There’s no secret: pasta, what we (all too willingly) forget, is a starter. Italy has vegetables for the first course, carbs for second and meat/fish for the main; all balanced very well. And the pasta, being an appetiser, is dished out in small portions, dressed with flavourings instead of drowned in the kind of sauce that would qualify as a separate dish.
Outside Italy we cook lots of pasta very badly though admittedly it might be changing, with those austere dishes like cacio e pepe becoming trendy. But as much as I am generally quite a stickler (tomato sauce added to carbonara in my local ‘Italian’ outfit left me speechless), I’m a complete sucker for pasta al forno: cook it, dress it and serve to me as pastasciutta and I’ll resist; stick it in the oven for a while and I’m yours.
Baked aubergine makes a fantastic dressing for pasta; the pancetta is to be taken or left – arguably the taste will be cleaner without it, not only vegetarian-friendly. But when facing a choice of adding bacon or not, I’ll usually go for it.