Even though the exterior of eggplant is a gorgeous deep purple color; the beauty of this vegetable lies on the inside. This recipe takes advantage of the fact that the flesh of grilled eggplant transforms into a luscious creamy sauce that’s perfect for dressing up little tubes of rigatoni. To make the most of summer’s bounty, cherry tomatoes are grilled alongside the eggplant until bursting with juices, then mixed into this summer vegetable pasta.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the lemon juice to the boiling water and cook the pasta according to the package directions for al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water, drain the pasta and return it to the pot; set aside.
Pierce the eggplant a few times with a fork or knife. Place on the grill, cover and cook, turning every 8 to 10 minutes, until completely charred all over and the flesh is soft when pressed, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool slightly for 10 minutes.
While the eggplant cooks, prepare 2 sheets of foil, each 12-by-12-inches, and stack them together. Place the tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper in the center of the foil. Fold over 2 opposite sides of the foil then fold in the remaining sides to create a tight seal. When 15 minutes of cooking time remain for the eggplant, add the foil pack to the grill and cook until juices start to bubble out of the top (this means the tomatoes and garlic are sufficiently cooked without having to open the pack), 13 to 15 minutes.
Remove the eggplant to a cutting board (keeping any juices that accumulated in the bowl) and squeeze gently to crack the skin and expose the flesh. Use a spoon to remove the flesh, transfer to the large bowl and mash lightly with the spoon or a potato masher (you should have about 1 cup of flesh); discard the skin. Stir in the ricotta and Pecorino Romano until smooth then pour into the pot with the pasta and mix until combined. Fold in the contents of the foil pack (including any juices that accumulated), the basil, parsley, lemon zest, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper; stir until combined, adding the reserved pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to thin out the sauce if needed. Serve with more basil, parsley, Pecorino Romano and crushed red pepper flakes if using.
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