Sausage and eggplant come together with creamy ricotta and tangy parmesan cheese to create an Italian American comfort dish classic.
With a last name like Della Croce, (Italian for “of the cross”), it probably comes as no surprise that my Sicilian husband loves baked pasta dishes. Heck, he loves anything with pasta!
After living in Boston for nine years with easy access to the North End, we were very spoiled with authentic Italian food. With the exception of a few gems, Grand Rapids is very much lacking in the Italian department. We have countless options for real Mexican food or homemade pho but when it comes to Italian food, your meal will most likely come with unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks.
To lighten up the classic Southern Italian dish, I bulked up the pasta with meaty eggplant so I could use less sausage. White pasta is swapped for the whole wheat variety to add protein, fiber and nutrients. Instead of mozzerella, the dish is topped with parmiggiano reggiano which is salty, nutty and full of flavor. The more pungent the cheese, the less you need. Fresh herbs are added at the end to brighten the flavor for minimal additional calories.
Bottom line? My version has 355 calories vs 950 calories in the restaurant classic. You’ll also save over 31 g of fat and 15 g of sat fat.
According to my calculator, you’ve just earned yourself another glass of (red) wine.
Your fork is waiting.
- 6 oz whole wheat penne cooked according to package instructions
- 2 Italian turkey sausage links sweet or spicy
- 1 medium onion diced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- pinch salt and pepper
- 1 leave eggplant diced - skin for added nutrients
- 2 c tomato basil sauce (canned or homemade low sodium preferred)
- 15 oz ricotta part skim
- 1 egg
- 1/4 c parsley
- 1/4 c parmesan
- basil and parsley to serve
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
Remove sausage from casings and cook over medium-high heat in a sauce pot sprayed with non-stick spray. Brown 8-9 minutes; remove from pan and set aside.
Add onion and garlic to the pan with a good pinch of salt and pepper and saute until softened, about 5-7 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix together ricotta, egg and parsley in a small bowl; set aside.
Add eggplant to the onion mixture with another pinch of salt and pepper stirring frequently until softened, about 6-7 minutes.
Add tomato basil sauce to the pan along with cooked sausage and pasta. Check for seasoning and adjust accordingly; remove from heat.
Pour 1/3 of the pasta/sausage mixture into a 9 x 13 baking pan then top with half of the ricotta mixture using a tablespoon to create big dollops.
Add another 1/3 of the pasta mixture and top with the remaining half of the ricotta.
Finally, add the remaining pasta then sprinkle parmesan cheese evenly on top.
Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes.
Turn broiler on high for the last few minutes to create a bubbly, cheesey, delicious topping.
When browning sausage, don't be afraid of a little color. The browner, the better, because brown = flavor!