Herb laminated pasta with a rocket &
cashew pesto, tomato + crispy fried eggplant
This post is in collaboration with Jules Taylor wines.
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One thing I miss while being on lockdown, like many, is eating out and especially the regular date nights we had. So I wanted to create a date night experience at home - food that took a little more time to prepare to make it special and some good wine with too. Pasta is one of my all-time favourite things, and Aary loves eggplant, so I combined the two and paired it with a Jules Taylor Sauvignon Blanc to create our ultimate date night meal. We loved how the bright and zingy flavours of Jules’ Sav match really well with the fresh flavours in the pesto and the acidity of the tomato sauce.
I decided to make herb laminated pasta for this dish - it just looks so pretty and adds that herby flavour. I plated it so it was stacked almost, in a lasagne-kinda-way, loosely layering the fresh pasta, with the homemade pesto, tomato sauce and the crispy fried eggplant. A few time-saving cheats, is you can, of course, buy fresh lasagne sheets and also buy some store brought pesto, but I would still make the tomato sauce (unless you have an absolute special passata you know of) but definitely don't skip out on the eggplant - the crunchy texture makes this dish incredibly good! So light some candles, put on some romantic tunes, get the kids off to bed early and enjoy a special meal together.
TIME TO MAKE | Around 3 hours total, including a 1 hour chill time in the fridge for the pasta dough.
SERVES | 2
FOR THE HERB LAMINATED PASTA
NOTE: General rule of thumb is 100g flour and 1 egg per person.
200g flour, 00 pasta flour if you have it, regular flour works as well
2 free-range eggs
Soft herbs; I used fennel, flat-leaf parsley, borage flowers and thyme
FOR THE TOMATO SAUCE
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 x 400g tin crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon brown sugar
FOR THE ROCKET AND CASHEW PESTO
1/2 cup cashews
120g baby rocket leaves (I find the baby rocket is not as bitter as the Mediterranean one)
3/4 cup grated parmesan
1 small clove garlic, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
FOR THE EGGPLANT
2 medium eggplant
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup flour
1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs
Oil for shallow frying - I used a cooking-grade olive oil
Good olive oil
Salt and pepper
Toasted pinenuts (if you have them)
To make the pasta, measure the flour inside a bowl and make a well in the centre. Crack the eggs into the middle, add a pinch of salt and whisk with a fork, then mix together to form a rough dough. Turn out onto the bench and kneed for 10 minutes until the dough is silky and smooth. Cut the dough in half, before wrapping and chilling in the fridge for at least 1 hour. While the dough is chilling you can prepare the other components.
For the tomato sauce, warm the olive oil over medium heat and cook the onions with a good pinch of salt until translucent. Add the garlic, and a pinch of pepper and cook for a further 1 minute. Add the tin of tomatoes and the sugar and bring to the boil. Once boiling, turn down to medium heat and reduce until thick and glossy, about 10-15 minutes. Once cooked you can either leave it like it is, or I like to blend it with a stick blender so that it is smooth. Set aside for now.
For the pesto, you can make this by hand chopping everything finely with a knife if you do not have a food processor, but I use a processor as it's faster. I start by toasting the cashews in a dry pan over medium heat, to give more flavour to the pesto. Once the cashews are browned, add these to a food processor with the rocket, parmesan, garlic and olive oil. Pulse until everything is blended but you still have texture to it. Taste and season with salt, pepper if it needs it (rocket is peppery, so be sure to taste first before adding pepper), plus a squeeze of lemon to bring all the flavours together. When you are happy with the flavours, set aside for now.
Once the pasta is ready to use, lightly dust the dough and flatten with the heel of your hand so that it is thin enough to be passed through a pasta machine (again, you can do this step by hand using a rolling pin, or with a wine bottle - it will just take longer). I roll, fold and re-pass through the machine a few times on the first 3 widest settings - this just helps to get the dough pliable, then you can start making the notch smaller each time you pass it through. Dust very lightly with flour, only if you need it. I rolled the pasta until I took it through a number 7 on the machine. Take the long pasta sheet and cut it into even lengths, I had four long sheets altogether. On two of the sheets, layout the herbs (see photo), making sure you do not add any stalks as this rips the pasta when you laminate it. Lay one of the other sheets over top, and gently press it with your palm to seal it. Carefully pass it back through the pasta machine - I did this on a number 6 setting on mine. You may have to pass through a second time just to make sure it is properly sealed. I found when I went to a number 7 setting, the pasta started to tear, so I stuck to a number 6. Repeat until all the pasta is made, then cut into squares and put into an airtight container with baking paper between them so they if not using immediately. Alternatively, you could cut into whatever shape you like, such as pappardelle. Put a large pot of water onto boil, and salt when boiling.
For the eggplant, slice into 2 cm rounds, then salt each side and leave on a rack for 10-15mins to draw out the moisture - this is so you don't get soggy eggplant when cooked. While the eggplant is being salted, get your breading station ready by putting the flour in one bowl and season with salt and pepper, the eggs - beaten in another bowl and the panko bread crumbs in another. Make sure your tomato sauce is hot, your pesto is ready and your garnishes are good to go, and have a tray lined with paper towels next to you for the eggplant. When the eggplant is ready, pat each one dry on both sides with a paper towel to remove the excess moisture, then coat in flour, then the egg and the crumbs. Heat enough oil in a pan to shallow fry, over medium-high heat, and when hot, gently fry until golden on both sides. Drain on the paper towel-lined tray when done.
While the eggplant is frying, cook the pasta in batches in the boiling water for 4 mins, taste to see if it is ready, then scoop out the pasta into a bowl when done. Toss the pasta in a little olive oil with some of the pesto, and repeat until all the pasta is cooked.
To serve, place some pasta down first, then some eggplant, tomato sauce, little dollops of the pesto, a sprinkle of grated parmesan and repeat the stack. Garnish with grated parmesan, olive oil, a little sea salt, pepper and fresh herbs. Pour a glass of chilled glass of Jules Taylor Sauvignon Blanc and enjoy!
NOTE: You will have extra pesto and tomato sauce leftover - this can be tossed through pasta on its own with some cheese for an easy kids meal. If you are storing these, keep in an airtight container in the fridge.