Orecchiette Pasta With Caramelized Eggplant and Spicy Pork Ragu
(Serves about 4)
½ pound ground pork
1 ¼ teaspoon sea salt, divided use
½ teaspoon black pepper, divided use
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly toasted and crushed
¼ teaspoon (more or less depending on taste) red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press, divided use
1 teaspoon dry oregano
• Drizzles olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 Italian eggplants (small variety), diced into small, ½” cubes
1/3 cup red wine
1 (28 ounce) can San Marzano diced tomatoes
8 ounces Orecchiette pasta (“little ear” shaped pasta), about half a package
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup grated Asiago cheese for garnish
-In a medium-size bowl, add the ground pork, ¼ teaspoon of the sea salt, ¼ teaspoon of the black pepper, the red pepper flakes, 1 clove of the pressed garlic and ¼ teaspoon of the dry oregano, and mix well with fingers to combine; set aside.
-Place a heavy-bottom braiser or large pan over medium-high heat, and add about 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil to it; once the oil is hot, add in the onion and the eggplant, and sauté/caramelize for about 6 minutes until a light golden color; once caramelized, remove the eggplant/onion mixture with a slotted spoon, and set aside for a moment; next, add another little drizzle of olive oil, and the ground seasoned pork to the pan by taking little chunks and crumbling them in (you want to keep the meat slightly chunky and not have it completely “melt” into the sauce); gently sauté the pork in the oil, gently moving it with a spoon to brown, but not break up, for about 4-5 minutes; next, add the eggplant/onion mixture back into the pan with the pork, add the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of black pepper, as well as the remaining 3 cloves of pressed garlic; stir the mixture together gently, and then add the wine in, scraping up the good, browned bit on the bottom of the braiser/pan; next, add in the diced San Marzano tomatoes and the remaining dry oregano, stir, and place the lid slightly askew on the braiser/pan, and simmer on low for 45 minutes until thickened.
-During the last 20 minutes that the Ragu cooks, cook the Orecchiette pasta according to package instructions; once cooked, drain the pasta, and drizzle with some olive oil to keep it from sticking; leave it in the colander covered with a kitchen towel to keep warm until the sauce is finished.
-Once the Ragu has simmered, turn the heat off, and add the chopped fresh oregano and parsley, and stir to combine; next, add the cooked pasta directly into the sauce and gently fold the pasta with the Ragu; once the pasta is well coated with the sauce, spoon equal amounts into bowls, drizzle with a touch of olive oil, and garnish with a generous amount of the grated Asiago cheese.