David Rocco’s Eggplant Pasta
When my brother and I decided to start our recipe video channel, we were greatly influenced by food shows from abroad–the extreme close ups showing off the colors and textures of the food, the perspective into which an episode or recipe was placed. Back home, food shows were (and in most part, still are) highly two-dimensional. Someone stands behind a counter and demonstrates recipes, bad camera angles fail to capture the essence, and shoddy editing makes for a boring experience. We wanted to make sure we learned from the experts and offered our audience a short yet unique and enjoyable experience–an almost first hand experience of the food itself.
One of the food shows that I am greatly influenced by in terms of the production quality as well as the thought behind it, is David Rocco’s Dolce Vita. This Canadian-Italian model-actor-cook brings to our screens the beauty of Italy, the joys of cooking with and for family and friends, and the simplicity yet diversity of the cuisine he is so evidently proud of. The sunny, fresh outdoors of the Amalfi coast makes me feel like I’m driving down those very roads every time I watch the series. I can smell and taste the sweet-tart lemons, and feel the wrinkles of the Italian mommas’ hands as I watch them roll out rustic pastas.
So, when Rini at the ITC Maratha, Mumbai, invited me over for an interaction with David Rocco himself, I was beside myself with joy. I immediately agreed to be present (with a gracious host like Rini, it is hard to refuse), and I have no regrets whatsoever! What followed was a fun day watching David cook off against Chef Rajdeep, Executive Chef of the ITC, and more importantly, catch up with my fellow food bloggers and friends. Someone referred to us at the “older batch” of Mumbai food bloggers, and you have no idea how warm and fuzzy that felt!
I reached a few minutes early–David and Chef Rajdeep were still shooting for The Foodie (an Indian television series) with Kunal Vijaykar. The cook off demanded that both the celebrity chefs cook their own signature dishes using the same core ingredients–in this case, it was eggplant, tomatoes, and cheese. Chef Rajdeep made the Dum Pukht specialty of Badin Jaan (shallow fried fat slices of eggplant topped with spiced tomato concasse and hung yogurt) and David made a lovely, fresh eggplant and tomato pasta with loads of parmesan and mozzarella.
In the later part of the day, there was another cook off between the two chefs–they were to use mushrooms and rice to make their dishes. This is when it got disappointing because our table of bloggers didn’t particularly enjoy either of the dishes! Chef Rajdeep had made a Gucchi Pulao, a subtle fragrant rice of morrel mushrooms, but it was overcooked, over-saffroned, (almost bitter) and the cheese and pomegranate filling that went into the mushrooms had disappeared. In contrast, David’s mixed mushroom risotto was spot on in terms of flavor (he finished it off with a dollop of mascarpone) but was a bit too al dente for the Indian palate. Nevertheless, David was the clear winner in terms of taste–clean, fresh flavors, and perfect;y balanced seasoning. We told the cameras what we thought, and although they appreciated our honesty and chatted with us over coffee, we’re definitely going to be edited out! One thing that really pained me, though, was that David said the hotel gave him an olive oil and white wine he was not happy with–I wish the hotel would go the extra mile and lay out the finest of ingredients at least for such special occasions!
We lazed around the rest of the day just getting high over endless glasses of wine and cups of coffee, chatting away. The lunch we were served was superb. It was an array of David’s recipes–a light and refreshing rustic Minestrone with fresh bread, Meatballs, and the Eggplant Parmigiana were my favorites. The desserts, the less said the better.
Anyway. I had been wanting to recreate David’s Eggplant Pasta and I did, yesterday. It is a quick and rustic recipe, and Avanee and I truly enjoyed it. I think there was some wine in his version but because I knew my toddler was going to eat it, I didn’t add any. Here’s the rest of the recipe as I remember it!
David Rocco’s Eggplant Pasta
- 2 cups pasta of choice (penne, macaroni, tortellini, etc.), cooked al dente according to instructions on pack
- 3 large, ripe tomatoes, blanched, peeled (I didn’t bother to peel) and roughly chopped
- 2 fat cloves of garlic, bruised and chopped
- 5-8 leaves of basil, torn
- 2 tbsp + 2 tbsp. good olive oil
- 1/4 eggplant, cubed
- 1/4 cup mixed cheese (I used mozzarella and parmesan)
- salt to taste
- Freshly ground pepper/chili flakes to taste
- 1/2 tsp. sugar (because most Indian tomatoes are sour)
- 1 tbsp. tomato ketchup or paste (this is purely my addition)
- Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a pan. Tip in the cubed eggplant and a very light sprinkling of salt. Cook until crisp and brown. Remove and drain on a kitchen towel.
- Return the pan on medium heat. Pour in more olive oil and garlic in quick succession and saute until fragrant.
- Tip in the tomatoes and add salt (remember you’ve salted the pasta as well as the eggplant!) and break down the tomatoes using a spatula or back of a spoon. Add the sugar and tomato ketchup/paste and reduce a little.
- Add the pasta and the torn basil leaves. Toss to just about coat the pasta.
- Add the fried eggplant and toss again.
- Turn off the heat, add the cheese and toss again.
- Serve piping hot with some more cheese and a sprig of basil on top.