Making pasta in a skillet may sound like a crazy notion, one that will probably receive some harsh judgement from hard-core Italian cooks, but it's actually one of the better time-saving solutions out there (plus, it results in less dishes to wash). As we've discussed before, the key is making the sauce saucier so that the pasta can cook in the excess liquid, and absorb all of its delicious flavors. The way to achieve this is by adding some low-sodium broth or water to the sauce.
This pasta is a slight riff off of the Pasta alla Norma, that's typically made with ricotta. The key is purchasing firm eggplants and cooking them well in the first step of the recipe since they will only be added back in to warm through at the end. If you worry that your sauce isn't saucy enough, you can always add more broth or water, but give it a chance.
The first time I ever made pasta in a skillet, I hovered over it, trying to inspect through the lid to make sure the pasta was actually cooking and the sauce wasn't totally disappearing and drying out the dish. It didn't, and it was delicious. Too much worry for no reason!
So don't worry about what people may think or that this won't turn out well, because it will. And this quick and handy way of making pasta might just become your go-to weeknight meal because it's definitely become mine.
Note: Add more chile flakes to the dish if you like a little more heat with your pasta and feel free to use ricotta instead of mozzarella, if you prefer.
- 3 ½ tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium to large eggplant, trimmed and diced (about 4 cups)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 2 medium cloves garlic, minced or grated with a Microplane (about 2 teaspoons)
- 1 teaspoon dried red chile flakes
- 1 (28-oz) can whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 cup low-sodium homemade or store-bought chicken stock or water
- 3 cups uncooked penne pasta
- ½ cup packed basil leaves, roughly chopped
- 1 (4-oz) ball of fresh mozzarella
Heat 3 tablespoons oil a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the eggplant and a generous pinch of salt and allow to cook, shaking and tossing occasionally, until eggplants are brown and have fully softened, 10 to 11 minutes. If eggplant threatens to burn, reduce heat to medium. Transfer to a bowl, cover with foil, and set aside.
Add the remaining oil to the pan and increase the heat to medium high. When shimmering, add the onions and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and red chili flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add the tomatoes and their juice and bring to a simmer. Once the tomatoes have softened, gently break them apart with a potato masher. Cook until the sauce has thickened, seasoning to taste, 8 to 10 minutes. Then add the broth and bring to a gentle simmer.
Add the pasta and cover, over medium heat, making sure there are active and vigorous bubbles. Stir occasionally to make sure the sauce isn’t sticking and allow to cook until the pasta is firm to the bite, 12 to 15 minutes, and stir in the eggplant. Tear the mozzarella into small chunks and add to the pan, heating until just starting to melt, about 1 minute. Stir in basil, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve.