Assuming things while cooking at Tom’s house can be risky. Like, for example, assuming that since he lives with an actual trained pastry chef that there would undoubtedly be a 9×13 baking dish in the house. Not the case, and it almost threw a wrench into our dinner plans, but we managed to find two baking dishes, so here we go:
Extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 pound Italian sausage (we used the hot kind)
1 large eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large can (28 ounces) peeled whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
Leaves from 1 small bunch basil
1 pound rigatoni
1 pound fresh mozzarella
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat for the pasta. Get yourself a 9 by 13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Or, as in our case, rummage through all the cabinets in the kitchen to find some kind of dish that can actually go in the oven.
2. Heat a 2 count of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausages and toss in the hot oil for 3 to 4 minutes, you want them nicely browned on the outside but still rare on the inside. Put the sausages in the baking dish.
3. Turn the heat down to medium. Add a generous 1/3 cup of oil to the skillet and get it hot. Add as many eggplant pieces as you can comfortably fit in a single layer and sprinkle well with salt. Cook, turning, for 7 to 8 minutes, until the eggplant is nice and browned, crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Use a spatula to put the eggplant into the baking dish with the sausage. Cook the rest of the eggplant pieces, adding more oil to the pan, as needed, and putting the finished eggplant into the baking dish.
4. Add another 2 count of oil to the skillet, then your onion and garlic, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until translucent. Dump the whole can of tomatoes and their juices into a bowl and crush the tomatoes with your hands to break them up; add that to the pan with the basil and cook it down until pulpy and relatively thick. This will take about 15 minutes.
5. By this time your pasta water will be boiling. Add the rigatoni, give it a stir, and cook for 6 to 7 minutes, it should be slightly firm. It will cook further in the oven. Ladle out 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and reserve; the drain the rigatoni.
6. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Chop the sausages into nice big, bite-size chunky pieces and return the pieces to the baking dish. Add the tomato sauce, rigatoni, and the reserved pasta water. Break up half the mozzarella over the mixture, season with salt and pepper, and gently mix with your hands or a spatula. Dust with the Parmigiano and drizzle with more olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes. Spread the remaining mozzarella in an even layer over the top and continue to bake for another 10 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.
It makes a TON of food and everyone at the house had it, enjoyed it, and there was still plenty for leftovers. It freezes pretty well too, so go ahead and make the whole recipe…