Lavender. In pasta. You heard me! This pasta features some fresh, local vegetables and a locally produced pasta sauce with lavender. Game on, fellow foodies.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Neal “Nello” McTighe, owner of Raleigh-based Nello’s Sauce (a post about Nello’s is coming up later this week!). You know, we don’t purchase much in the way of processed or prepared foods, but I was very interested in talking to the folks at Nello’s about starting a small, local business. And, I like food, right?
During a recent blogy interview, Neal introduced me to Nello’s newest creation, their Provencal Pomodoro Sauce. Yes, Provencal–as in Provence, France–home of lovely fields of lavender! The amazing ingredient in this particular sauce is organic lavender. Now, I’ve had lavender in pound cake and cookies and in Herbes de Provence, but it never occurred to me to use it in a tomato sauce. Nope. Not even once. Shame on me, right?
Since we have loads and loads of fresh, ripe eggplant at our farmer’s markets right now, I decided to take this sauce out for a spin with a roasted eggplant, chicken and artichoke heart pasta, created on the fly using what I found at the market. I used some locally produced fresh mozzarella, which melted oh so deliciously into the sauce. This recipe is a keeper, for sure. It was definitely on the hearty end of the food spectrum, although it is very modest in calories and super low in fat. You could easily skip the chicken, increase the eggplant and Voila! Meatless Monday!
I should disclose that the sauce was given to me, although without expectation that I would blog about it. Although it was a gift, I would not blog about it if it weren’t exceptional–I have too many pieces to write as it is, so I’m not going to write about something that isn’t good. Ain’t no blogger got time for that.
A note about the sauce. If you have picky eaters and are worried about lavender in the pasta sauce, here is my suggestion–don’t tell them.The lavender in the sauce adds a lovely, floral flavor that doesn’t overwhelm you (you won’t feel like you are eating potpourri), and your family probably won’t be able to place the wonderful flavor. It is really a winning combination!
Aubergine and Lavender Pasta (makes 6-8 servings)
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (raw) cut into small cubes (about 1/2″)
- 2 tablespoons Herbes de Provence
- 3 smallish aubergine eggplants, peeled and cubed
- 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 sweet onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 10-12 frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted (do not use marinaded artichoke hearts)
- 1 jar Nello’s Provencal Pomodoro Sauce
- 4-6 fresh basil leaves
- 10 ounces thin spaghetti noodles
- Fresh mozzarella cheese, to taste
- Grated parmesan cheese, to taste
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Put a stock pot of water on to boil for the pasta.
- Line two rimmed baking sheets with foil.
- In a medium bowl, combine the cubed, raw chicken with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, pinch of salt, pepper and the Herbes de Provence. Toss well and add to one rimmed baking sheet. Put in the oven and roast for 35-40 minutes.
- In another bowl, combine cubed eggplant and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and toss well to coat the eggplant. Add to the second baking sheet and roast eggplant for 30 minutes or until soft (I added the second baking sheet about 10 minutes after the chicken, so they finished at the same time).
- In a 12″ skillet, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat and saute the onions until they are soft and begin to caramelize, about 8 minutes. Don’t let them burn. Add the garlic and artichoke hearts and cook another 2-3 minutes. Add the pasta sauce and reduce heat to medium low.
- Put the pasta in the boiling, salted pasta water and cook according to directions.
- While pasta is cooking, add the cooked chicken and eggplant to the sauce. Stir well. Cut up the basil leaves and add to the sauce.
- Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water to thicken the sauce, if necessary.
- Add the drained, cooked pasta to the skillet with the sauce. Turn the heat off, and use tongs to combine the pasta and sauce.
- Serve the hot pasta with chunks of fresh mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, if you like (and I do!).
- Serve immediately.