Pasta al forno con le melanzane e la ricotta (Aubergine and ricotta pasta bake)
Deep fried aubergines and ricotta cheese make the perfect filling for this Italian pasta bake. You can prepare it up to 24 hours in advance and let it stand before serving so the flavours will blend nicely.
In a saucepan on medium-low heat, cook onion, celery and carrot till soft. Add passata and salt and increase the heat. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time. Remove from the hob and and cool slightly.
For the pasta bake:
Place a colander on a large plate and layer the aubergine slices in the colander; sprinkle each layer with a generous amount of salt. Place another plate on top and a weight like a cutting board or a container filled with water. Let it stand for 30 to 60 minutes till the aubergines will release some brownish liquid.
Heat a generous amount of sunflower oil in a frying pan and deep fry the aubergines, a few at the time, till nicely browned. As the aubergines soak up quite a bit of oil, add more oil to the pan as needed. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with kitchen paper.
Preheat the oven to 180 C / Gas 4.
Cook pasta in abundant salted water. Drain 4 minutes before the end of suggested cooking time. Place in a bowl and add tomato sauce and ricotta. Toss well.
Place half of the pasta in a 30X20cm baking dish. Cover with half of the aubergines, mozzarella and grated Parmesan. Add the remaining pasta and repeat the layering. Sprinkle the top with the breadcrumbs.
Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Transfer the dish to the top rack and grill till top is golden. about 5 minutes. Serve right away or cover and keep the pasta warm till it's time to serve.