Baked Rigatoni with Spicy Slow Cooker Fennel and Grilled Eggplant Sauce and Smoked Mozzarella (Scamorza)

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All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2014

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Working a long day & coming home to a house filled with dogs is lovely but it would be even more lovely if they fucking cooked once in a while.  It would be really nice – for once – to come home to a homemade meal filling the house with tempting aromas & a nice glass of wine already poured & waiting for me.

The fact is – I am NEVER too tired to pour my own glass of wine but the home-cooked meal can really be a daunting pain in the ass and, as a result, I have been living largely on tortilla pizzas.  I complained to the badass, Miles Miller, that I really needed to get myself a little wife action – a little “Honey, you’re home!”  A little bit of someone slaving away in the kitchen for me prepping a warm & delicious meal – as I toiled elsewhere.

And then I remembered my slow cooker!  Slow cookers have always appealed to me but never more than now.  With my trusty crock pot chugging away in my absence – I COULD come home to a house filled with yummy smells & a warm dinner waiting for me.

And so – I dug through my fridge & pantry yesterday to see what I could throw together.

This is not the most basic slow cooker recipe as it requires prepping a few things before slow cooking and assembling a few things & throwing them in the oven after the slow cooker has worked its magic but it is still pretty easy & my house DID smell amazing when I walked in last night.  It was very welcoming.

I had a random collection of ingredients handy but they worked incredibly well together.  I grilled my eggplant first but this is not necessary.  I used fennel because I had it.  You could use these things or make your sauce with other stuff you like – sausage, for example.  The real key to this was the smoked mozzarella.  Smoked mozzarella adds a meaty richness to dishes and it made my baked rigatoni feel comforting & seem autumnal.  Try it.  I actually used Scamorza – which is basically mozzarella.  I had two little balls that were smaller than a pool ball and just one of them added enough oomph to make this dish incredible.

DO NOT BE INTIMIDATED by the ingredients list.  Look at it.  It is mostly spices & other crap you likely have around already.

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Baked Rigatoni with Spicy Slow Cooker Fennel and Grilled Eggplant Sauce and Smoked Mozzarella (Scamorza)


About 12 oz pasta – cooked, drained & tossed with a bit of olive oil

Olive oil

4 oz smoked mozzarella (or more)

Parsley – chopped (as garnish)

1-2 cups grated mozzarella (regular not smoked)

for the sauce (this makes about 10 cups of sauce but the baked pasta only requires HALF of that – so either be prepared to freeze some or cut the recipe in half)

2 (10 oz) cans of Rotel (or other fire roasted tomatoes)

2 (26 oz) cans or boxes of crushed and/or strained tomatoes (I used one of each)

1 cup tomato juice (I used a spicy V8 but any will do – or just add a cup of tomato sauce)

1 cup water

1/2 cup dry white wine (or  water)

1 eggplant – sliced & grilled or simply cubed without grilling (I dredged my eggplant in Newman’s Own Lite Italian dressing before grilling but olive oil is fine)

2 fennel bulbs – sliced very thin

1 red onion – diced

4-10 garlic cloves (I used 10)

1-3 TBS crushed red pepper (I used 3 and the sauce was genuinely spicy)

2 tsp salt

1 TBS black pepper

2 TBS dry oregano

1 TBS onion powder

1 TBS garlic powder

Fresh herbs (I used a big handful of basil, a large sprig of fresh rosemary, a few sprigs of fresh thyme & a small sprig of fresh oregano but any combo you have will do – basil being most important)

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Cook the pasta & toss with olive oil & put it in the fridge until assembly time.

Grill the eggplant – if you are if you are doing that – and chop it.  I dipped mine in Italian dressing & grilled on my stove but a grill pan will do.  Or – just cube it & cook it a bit with the fennel & onion.

Heat 1-2 TBS olive oil in a large saute pan & saute the WHOLE garlic cloves & fennel & onion (and eggplant – if you are not grilling it) & cook (stirring frequently) – over medium heat – until the vegetables are soft & beginning to brown a bit.

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Now, put all the sauce ingredients (don’t forget the water!!!) into your slow cooker & set it on low.  I left mine for ten hours.

Go away.  Come home.  Smell the yummy smells!!!

Assembly time!  Half an hour or so before you want to eat – continue with the recipe.

Heat the oven to 350.

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Remove any hard stems that might be in your sauce (most of mine had broken down – with the exception of the rosemary stems).

Treat a casserole pan with some cooking spray.  Put the pasta in there & toss with about a cup of grated regular mozzarella & about 5 cups of the sauce.

Top with more sauce if you want to & maybe about a cup of grated mozzarella.  Top with sliced or grated smoked mozzarella (Scamorza) & bake, uncovered, for about 30 minutes or until it is bubbling at the edges & the cheese is just turning golden a bit.

Serve that shit up with some chopped parsley & congratulate yourself on what a good little wife you got when you bought that slow cooker!

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