1 medium eggplant
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound sweet Italian sausage with fennel, casings removed
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 28-ounce can Italian tomatoes
A few leaves basil, torn
3 to 4 tablespoons chopped hot Italian cherry pepper rings plus 2 tablespoons brine or 3 tablespoons cherry pepper spread, such as Cento
1 pound ziti rigate (with lines)
Grated Pecorino Romano, for tossing and serving
Sheep’s milk ricotta, for serving
Mint and parsley, for garnish
Using a vegetable peeler, peel half of the skin off the eggplant in long strips, leaving a strip of skin between peeled sections. Chop eggplant and toss with salt. Let drain on a kitchen towel while you start the sauce.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta.
Heat a large saucepot or skillet over medium-high to high heat. Add the olive oil, 2 turns of the pan. Add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking the meat up with a wooden spoon, until browned, about 5 minutes.
Squeeze the excess liquid from the eggplant and add it to the pan. Add the onion and garlic. Cover partially and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and break them up with a spoon. Cook until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Wilt in the basil and stir in the cherry peppers with their brine or the cherry pepper spread.
Salt the boiling water and add the pasta. Cook until 1 minute shy of al dente per package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water, then drain.
Add the pasta, reserved cooking water, a fat handful of Pecorino cheese and a swirl of EVOO to the sauce and toss until the pasta is coated. Serve in shallow bowls topped with a dollop of ricotta, and mint and parsley to garnish.