I know that I’m pretty much the exact demographic representation of someone you’d expect to be super in love with farmers’ markets, but to tell you the truth — I’ve never been much of a fan. I don’t have that creative, culinary spark where I can look at some farmer’s…beautiful…heirloom tomatoes…and think, “Aha! I know just what I shall do with these!” I’m more of a meal-planning, grocery-list-making, recipe-following uninspired kitchen bureaucrat. Farmers’ markets don’t always jive well with that.
However. I recently had the opportunity to reevaluate my position when I visited the best farmers’ market in the history of the universe. I exaggerate. But slightly. I’d always heard that DC has a great market every Sunday in Dupont Circle, but because I’m pretty meh on the whole idea, I never checked it out.
That was a mistake, friends, because this farmers’ market is insane. Good sign one: I literally got lost in it. Good sign two: I enjoyed a freshly-made spicy cucumber popsicle while getting lost. And good sign three: I got basically every single item on the produce section of my (large) grocery list for about $25. I realize that $25 doesn’t sound all that cheap, but if you could have felt how heavy my tote bag was when I was schlepping home, I promise you’d be impressed.
And good sign four? I put my newly-purchased, fresh-from-the-farm eggplant to work in this baked pasta dish, and it made a delicious, filling (and vegetarian!) meal.
BAKED EGGPLANT PENNE WITH CAPERS (adapted from Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide)
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
1 large eggplant, cut into bite-sized chunks
2 tsp olive oil, divided
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp capers, chopped
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes
2-3 tbsp chopped, fresh oregano
salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
1 lb whole-wheat penne, cooked to al dente
8 oz fresh mozzarella, grated (splurge on fresh mozzarella here, it’s so good!)
1. Preheat oven to 425. Place chopped eggplant in a colander/strainer; sprinkle with salt. Let sit for 20 minutes or so, Spread eggplant on large baking sheet, toss with 1 tsp olive oil, and roast until tender (about 20 minutes; stirring halfway through cooktime).
2. In large skillet, saute garlic until tender, about a minute. Add tomatoes and their juices, crushing tomatoes by hand before adding them to the pan (note: this is messy but fun). Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Let simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until sauce thickens. Stir in pasta, eggplant, capers, and oregano; mix well.
3. Remove pasta mixture from heat and pour into 9×13 baking dish. Sprinkle with pasta with mozzarella, followed by panko. Bake at 425 until bubbly and golden, about 15 minutes. Serve warm.
This was a great vegetarian main dish, and I loved loved loved the fresh mozzarella sprinkled on top. These quantities probably feed about 6 people, so adjust accordingly.