For the eggplant:
4 small to medium eggplant
Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) non-aerosol spray
For the Pickled Red Chili Pepper Rings (optional) :
3 Fresno chili peppers, very thinly sliced
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
For the Cherry Tomato Sauce and pasta:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
4 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon Calabrian chili paste, or 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved (or two 14-ounce cans Italian cherry tomatoes)
¼ cup red vermouth
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped (or 1½ teaspoons dried)
One handful basil leaves, torn
1 pound casarecce, penne rigate or mezze rigatoni
12 ounces ricotta salata, grated
½ cup finely chopped parsley and mint
Serves: 4 to 6
For the eggplant, preheat oven to 425˚F with rack at center and line a baking sheet with foil and parchment paper.
Place a pot of water on to boil for pasta.
Thinly slice the eggplant into rounds and arrange on kitchen towels, then salt, drain 20 to 30 minutes, and press excess water out. Arrange the eggplant on the parchment-lined sheet tray and spray on both sides lightly with oil, roast until browned and tender, about 15 minutes, then remove from oven.
For the pickled peppers, in a small bowl, dress sliced Fresno peppers with sugar, salt and vinegar, toss and let stand 20 to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, for the tomato sauce, heat a deep skillet with a lid over medium to medium-high heat, add EVOO, 3 turns of the pan, add sliced garlic and stir 1 minute, add chili paste or flakes and stir, add tomatoes, vermouth (if using), salt, oregano, and basil, cover and slump tomatoes, 15 to 20 minutes, shaking pan occasionally.
For the pasta, salt boiling water and cook pasta 1 minute less than package directions for al dente. Reserve ½ cup boiling water before draining, add pasta to sauce with ¾ roasted eggplant and some grated ricotta salata. Add pasta water as needed to combine, transfer to serving bowl and top with more cheese, remaining eggplant, fresno chilis (if using), parsley and mint.