DDD #81 – Vegan Eggplant Timbale with Rigatoni in Vodka Sauce

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All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2018

To see images of my past posts & get links to the recipes – look on my Pinterest board – HERE.

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A long, long time ago, I had a boyfriend.  And that boyfriend had – egads! – ex-girlfriends.  One of these ex-girlfriends was (and remains) a famous actress.  A beautiful, famous actress.  She had been reaching out to him to “reconnect.”  My boyfriend at the time announced that he would be having dinner with this ex at some point in the future.  I informed him that I would be attending this dinner myself.  He looked at me like I was crazy.  “Nothing’s going on,” he explained.  “She just wants to get together.  We are friends.”  I explained that, as his live-in girlfriend, his friends should be my friends, too, and asked that if everything was so innocent, why couldn’t he just invite her over to our home for dinner.

It took a bit but I won this debate.  The invitation was extended & then the pressure was on.  ME.  On me because I had to cook the damned dinner – a dinner to impress this chick.  I wanted to impress her with both my culinary skills & with the level of our domesticity.  It was a passive-aggressive counter-attack to what I sensed were not entirely innocent intentions on her part.

This was pre-internet and pre-40 million cooking shows – so I had only my trusty collection of cookbooks to consult for ideas.  After hours of deliberating – I ended up making two dishes I had never made before – always very dangerous if making a good impression is your top priority.  I made a two-color soup much like this one (this one here is not my creation):


Photo borrowed from HERE.

And I made an eggplant timbale as shown here in this blog.  As fate would have it, my dinner was a huge success & the ex-girlfriend was smart & funny & charming & the two of us were quickly gabbing like old friends, nearly cutting my boyfriend from the conversation completely.

And – for the record, ladies (and gents) – this ex-girlfriend never “reached out” to “touch base” again – to either me or my boyfriend.  So – my instincts had been correct.  She had been perhaps interested in rekindling more than just old times.  But – to her credit – once she met me, she was forever respectful and was never again a threat to our domestic bliss.

So – if you ever need to impress someone or scare off some interested interloper from meddling with your love life – serve them this whopper of a dish.  It is far easier to make than folks guess and it tastes delicious – and it is classier than a slap fight & hair pulling.

Also – as an aside, I bought this fucking gigantic can (I know canned tomatoes are bad but sometimes you gotta bend rules) of tomato sauce for $2.69.  That is practically free!  It makes 12 cups of whatever the Hell sauce you are making.  I made arrabbiata (surprise, surprise) and I froze 8 cups of it & used 4 cups of it to make the vodka sauce in this recipe.

Vodka Sauce – large quantity


2 28-ounce cans tomato sauce

1 small onion – diced

1/2 cup vodka (optional)

1/4 cup olive oil

5 garlic cloves – chopped

1 TBS crushed red pepper (optional)

1 cup chopped basil

1 cup peas – optional

S&P to taste

For a pink sauce (optional) – 1 cup vegan heavy cream or vegan cream cheese


Heat oil & saute the onion until soft.  Add garlic for one minute then add the vodka.  Cook on high a minute & then add the other ingredients, bring to a boil then reduce heat to low & simmer for 30 minutes or more.  For a pink sauce – add 1 cup vegan heavy cream or vegan cream cheese.


Vegan Eggplant Timbale with Rigatoni & Vodka Sauce



1 pound rigatoni (or other pasta) – cooked & drained

8 oz vegan mozzarella

4 large eggplants

1/4 cup bread crumbs

1/8 cup vegan Parmesan

Chopped tomato or chopped fresh parsley or basil – as garnish


Pre-heat the oven to 350.

Slice the eggplants into 1/4 inch slices.  You can go the long way or the other way – creating round disks.  (OPTIONAL – Place in colanders or on paper towels & sprinkle with salt on both sides.  Let the eggplants drain for about 30 minutes.  This not only helps remove moisture from the eggplant but also minimizes bitterness. I skipped this step.)


You can either rub olive oil into your eggplant before grilling or you can dip them in an Italian salad dressing – really just to lubricate them so they do not stick to the grilling surface & tear apart.  Grill (a grill pan works, too) the eggplant until they get nice grill marks on one side, turn them & repeat.  Remove & set aside.


Cook the rigatoni according to the box directions.  Err on the side of under-cooking – as they will cook more in the oven.  Drain the rigatoni & mix in a bowl with cheeses & 2 or more cups of vodka sauce.  Add more sauce if you like a really wet pasta.  You will have extra vodka sauce that you can use to add as a garnish to the finished slices of timbale or to use in another recipe.  It might be nice to have extra sauce for the timbale when you are in the leftovers phase.



Grease a spring form pan & then put some bread crumbs & vegan Parmesan inside.  Swirl the pan to coat all the surfaces.  Throw any unstuck bread crumbs/cheese away.


Line the inside of the pan with grilled eggplant.  You can either do as I did or, if you have circular disks, fan them on the bottom of the pan & then stick some, overlapping, up on the sides.  However you do it – try to cover every part of the pan with eggplant.  Pour the pasta & vodka sauce & cheese mix in – layering in extra cheese, if you fancy.  Top with any remaining eggplant slices.


Cover the timbale in foil & place some heavy dishes on top & put in the fridge to compress for about 15 minutes.


Then – bake at 350 for about 45 minutes.  Let rest, unmolested, for at least 15 minutes and then put a serving dish on top of the timbale, flip the whole thing over & then very carefully – remove the spring form pan.


Garnish with either grated Parmesan or extra vodka sauce.

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

To see images of my past posts & get links to the recipes – look on my Pinterest board – HERE.

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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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