Recipe for Sugo alla Siracusana/Roasted Pepper Sauce with Eggplants, Tomatoes, and Olives from The Best Pasta Sauces: Favorite Regional Italian Recipes (Ballantine Books/Random House) by Micol Negrin with photographs by Dino De Angelis
Cookbook review by Tracey Zabar
The Best Pasta Sauces book is jam-packed with amazing recipes from all over Italy. Micol Negrin and Dino De Angelis run Rustico Cooking, a terrific culinary school in midtown Manhattan. This recipe is my absolute favorite for dinner on a cool, late-summer evening.
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Sugo alla Siracusana
Roasted Pepper Sauce with Eggplants, Tomatoes, and Olives
This sauce is bold, vibrant, and summery. There is the salty note of capers and olives, the mellow sweetness of roasted peppers and tomatoes, the pleasant bite of eggplant…and of course, the fragrance of basil at the end. In Siracusa, they cook down the ingredients a lot longer so the sauce reduces and becomes jammy; I prefer to simmer the sauce no more than 15 minutes to maintain its immediate flavors. I also skip on frying the eggplants, and simply sauté them in the anchovy-laced olive oil before adding the other ingredients to the pan: lighter, healthier, and easier.
Ingredient notes: Sicilians prefer their capers packed in salt; the flavor is saltier, and purely that of caper, not at all briny. Be sure to rinse salt-packed capers, and chop finely if they are large.
Wine pairing: Manenti Cerasuolo di Vittoria
For the sauce:
3/4 pound small eggplant (preferably Italian or Sicilian), peel on, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon salt
1 pound ripe, juicy tomatoes
1 large, fleshy yellow pepper, halved and seeded
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 salted anchovies, boned, gutted, and rinsed, or 4 oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 ounces pitted black olives, chopped
2 tablespoons salted capers, rinsed and drained, or capers in brine, drained (chopped if large)
10 basil leaves, torn
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup cool water, plus extra as needed
For the pasta and to serve:
2 tablespoons salt
1 pound ziti lunghi or spaghetti
¼ pound freshly grated aged Caciocavallo or Pecorino Romano, plus extra for passing at the table
10 basil leaves, torn
Make the sauce: Place the eggplant cubes in a colander over a plate and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the salt; set aside to purge their bitter juices for 1 hour. Squeeze dry.
Meanwhile, make a cross-hatch on the bottom of each tomato and cut out the stem end on each tomato. Bring 1 quart of water to a boil and drop in the tomatoes; cook until the skins begin to loosen, about 30 seconds for ripe tomatoes and 2 minutes for firmer tomatoes. Drain and cool. Slip off the skins. Cut in half along the width (the Equator) and scoop out the seeds. Dice finely and set aside, reserving any juices that seep out from the tomatoes. (I actually like the seeds so I do not remove them, but most classic Italian recipes call for seeding the tomatoes; this is your call. Seeds contain a lot of flavor as well as vitamins.)
Preheat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the halved and seeded pepper on the foil, cut side down. Slip under the preheated broiler and broil 12 minutes, or until the skin is blistered and black. Wrap in the aluminum foil and allow them to steam until cool enough to handle. Peel off the skin and cut the peeled roasted pepper into ¼-inch-wide strips, then into ¼-inch dice.
Place the olive oil with the anchovies in a deep, wide saucepan large enough to accommodate the pasta later. Warm gently over medium heat until the anchovies break down to a paste, about 1 minute, crushing with a fork or spoon to help them break down. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds, or until aromatic, then stir in the eggplant and cook, stirring as needed, until golden all over and soft almost all the way through, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and diced roasted pepper, and cook 5 minutes. Add the olives, capers, and basil; season with the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt and the pepper, and pour in the water. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook 10 minutes, adding a bit of water as needed to maintain a moist consistency. Adjust the seasoning and keep warm. (The sauce can be made up to this point 2 days in advance; refrigerate until needed, then warm gently before proceeding.)
Meanwhile, make the pasta: Bring 5 quarts of water to a boil. Add the salt and the pasta, and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving 2 cups of the pasta cooking water.
Toss the drained pasta with the sauce. Stir in the Caciocavallo and basil, and dilute with as much of the reserved pasta cooking water as needed. Adjust the seasoning and serve hot.