Savory roasted eggplant meets umami-rich roasted tomatoes, briney capers and sweet caramelized onions. This comforting veggie-packed pasta a must-have vegan weeknight dinner.
There’s something about the end of summer that feels like the best time to eat pasta. And this plant-based recipe, full of late summer vegetables, hits the spot.
If you’re gluten-free, this recipe can easily be made with your favorite gf pasta. We like the gluten free pasta from Ancient Harvest. And the rest of this recipe is entirely dairy-free and vegetarian!
How to make caramelized onions for pasta
If the word “caramelize” doesn’t make you hungry, we then we have very different taste buds. I’ll pretty much order anything that’s described as caramelized on a menu.
Caramelized eggplant? Yep. Caramelized leeks? Oh yes. Apples? Sure thing. Bananas? Hell yeah? But caramelized onions? They have my heart.
Ooey, gooey, sweet and salty. Slowly melted caramelized onions are the sweet-savory flavor foundation to many, many wonderful dishes. When I’m cooking up a simple dinner, I nearly always start with a base of softly caramelized onions.
Here’s how to make simple foolproof caramelized onions for this roasted eggplant pasta, and many other dishes:
First, heat a drizzle of olive oil in a non-reactive skillet over medium heat. Keep that bottle of olive oil on hand. You may need to add more to keep the onions from burning or sticking.
Then, add thinly sliced onions and reduce the heat to medium-low. Protip: add more onions than you think you’ll need! They cook down quite a bit. Plus, you’ll have to account for all the bites of onion you sneak along the way.
To slice an onion for caramelizing, first trim your onion, removing the root and stem ends. Then slice the bulb in half and peel. Lay an onion half cut-side-down on a cutting board. Then thinly slice with the grain of the vegetable to make nearly transparent slices. These are called juliennes. This way, your onions pieces are all about the same size, so they’ll cook evenly.
You can add a pinch of salt to the onions in your pot. But really, all that’s left to do is let them cook down. They may take a while to start browning, but be patient. You don’t want to rush caramelization! Rushing will no doubt lead to burning. Keep you stove at a conservative medium-low flame, and stir the onions every so often. They’re done when they’re totally melted into a jammy texture of deliciousness.
Why Caramelized Food Taste So Good
Cooking onions helps to break down that harsh bite you probably dislike in raw onions. Caramelization, which is a slower, general process of cooking, also draws out the vegetables’ natural sweetness. By cooking your onion slices low and slow, you releases much of the liquid inside the veggies. The result is melty, silky morsels.
You may not think of onions, even sweet onions, as the sweetest produce. But try a truly golden caramelized onion, like in this roasted eggplant pasta, and you’ll certainly taste those natural sugars. What’s happened is that as the onions brown, their sugars become more pronounced. This browning, known as the Maillard reaction, is the secret to flavoring nearly any cooked dish.
What other fruits and vegetables can you caramelize?
You can use this same technique to bring out the natural sweetness in many other produce. The best candidates are high in natural sugars and low in water content. Try:
- Bananas. This Pumpkin Peanut Butter Oatmeal with Caramelized Bananas will make you see bananas in a totally new light.
- Figs. A bit of extra sugar in this recipe for caramelized figs from Veggies Save the Day help transform fresh figs into a sweet dessert.
- Eggplant. Read on for how to get delicous roasted caramelized eggplant for this pasta.
Build flavor in the pasta with caramelized eggplant and tomatoes
Oven-roasted eggplant and tomatoes add to the rich flavors in this weeknight pasta. Using the oven this time, you’ll get the same golden-brown caramelization on the eggplant as your onions.
Eggplants contain a lot of water. So it’s important to remove some of that moisture to achieve good caramelization. To do so, cut your eggplants into 1-inch cubes. Then toss them with salt and let them sit for up to 30 minutes before cooking. You’ll draw out some of the water to help your eggplant cubes brown up nicely. Then just try them with a clean dish towel before roasting.
You’ll add the tomatoes to the baking sheet about halfway through roasting the eggplant. Tomatoes cook faster, but you want to let them break down a bit in the oven. They’ll release their flavors into the pasta and roasted eggplant, creating a natural sauce when you toss everything together.
Top off your pasta: Capers, Pine Nuts and some Spice
Let’s talk final flavor toppers for this roasted eggplant and tomato pasta. We have golden brown pine nuts, salty capers and red pepper flakes.
To toast pine nuts, be sure to pay close attention. They can burn easily! You want to keep your skillet moving consistently while cooking. Leave them too long in one spot, and you can quickly get nuts burnt to a crisp on one side.
We also added capers to this roasted eggplant and tomato pasta. Capers are such a simple way to add saltiness with extra flavor, rather than plain salt. They act as little pops of briney goodness mixed throughout your pasta.
And finally, to add that last hit of flavor missing from this eggplant pasta: red chile flakes. Red pepper flakes are our go-to spice to shake over everything from savory breakfast bowls to pizza to tacos. We use them so much, we buy them in bulk. But I’ve noticed that they can lose their spiciness pretty quickly. So unless you’re doing a lot of spicy cooking, you might want to stick to a normal sized spice jar 🙂
Enjoy this roasted eggplant tomato pasta with fresh basil, vegan (or regular) parmesan. It just might become your go-to weeknight pasta dinner!
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Savory roasted eggplant, umami-rich roasted tomatoes, briney capers and sweet caramelized onions make this comforting veggie-packed pasta a must-have weeknight dinner.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 medium onion, sliced thinly
- 10–20 cherry tomatoes or 4 small tomatoes, quartered
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 lb rotini pasta, gluten-free if necessary (we like Ancient Harvest brand)
- ½ cup pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons capers
- 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
- Fresh basil, for topping
- Vegan grated parmesan, for topping
- Preheat the oven to 400F. Add the diced eggplant to a clean dish towel and sprinkle liberallly with salt. Let the eggplant sit for at least 10 minutes, and up to 30. Then wring the entire dish cloth out over the sink, removing as much liquid as possible. Transfer the eggplant to a baking sheet and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and a pinch of salt.
- Roast for 10 minutes and remove from the oven. Add the tomatoes to the baking sheet with the eggplant, toss well, and return to the oven. Roast until the tomatoes burst and the eggplant is golden brown, another 15 to 20 minutes.
- While the eggplant roasts, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and cook until they begin to carmelize, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and a pinch of salt.
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta. Add the pasta and cook to al dente, according to package instructions. Drain and add the cooked pasta to the pot with the onions, off the heat.
- While the pasta cooks, place a small non-stick skillet over medium heat with the pine nuts. Toast, tossing the skillet constantly, until the nuts are golden brown on all sides. Watch them carefully, as they burn easily. Once toasted, transfer the nuts to a bowl or plate.
- Once the eggplant and tomatoes are finished, add them to the pot with the onions and pasta. Add capers, red pepper flakes, olive oil to taste and top with fresh basil. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with vegan parm at the table.
Keywords: vegan roasted eggplant pasta
Updated September 6, 2019