This vegan eggplant baked rigatoni is the most perfect pasta dish for early fall. It’s a cross between Pasta alla Norma and baked ziti, and it’s a delicious way to use up your eggplant while satisfying your comfort food cravings.
I’m sort of embarrassed to admit how tired I feel of cooking right now. In the early weeks of quarantine last spring, I was hooping that the stay-at-home time would inspire me to get especially creative in the kitchen.
That hasn’t happened at all. 100% of the dishes I’ve craved in 2020 fall into the category of comfort food. About 50% of them are dessert. The other 50% is a mix of pasta and bread, with only a smattering of other foods thrown into the mix.
It is what it is. I’ve learned that I can’t force myself to get excited about food that I’m genuinely not craving. It never works, and if I force myself to cook dishes only for the sake of variety, I usually end up making a mess of them. Better to go with the flow, until the flow changes!
Baked pasta dishes are usually something of an undertaking. This one is pretty low key, all things considered. Using a store-bought marinara sauce makes a big difference. I like making marinara at this time of year, but I think that the tastiest batches require time. I’ve also noticed that my best homemade marinara is usually no better than store-bought versions, and honestly, it’s often less good.
So, I’ve been relying on Rao’s lately, and a few other local brands (I like Michael’s of Brooklyn, too). The time saved is usually worth it for me, and that’s definitely true in this recipe. Using store-bought marinara will allow you to focus on making a homemade vegan ricotta—which I think it’s totally worth the effort—and on assembly.
The vegan “ricotta” in this eggplant baked rigatoni is basically a hybrid of my go-to cashew cheese and the tofu ricotta from Power Plates. The cashews give the ricotta richness, while the tofu helps to keep the texture light. Regular cashew cheese is a little too dense to be a stand-in for ricotta, while tofu isn’t quite creamy enough. Together, they’re perfect.
Use your favorite brand in the recipe, or—of course!—use your own. You’ll want just over 3 cups, the same as a 25-ounce jar of sauce.
I used a decent sized globe eggplant in this recipe, just about 1 1/2 pounds. You can use two smaller eggplants, too.
As I mentioned recently when I posted stewed eggplant tomato lentils, I’m a big believer in salting eggplant. I know it’s not everyone’s preference, so if you’d really prefer to skip the step, go for it! If you have the time, I think it’s worthwhile for texture and flavor.
Sure, this is eggplant baked rigatoni, but any tube shaped pasta will work nicely in the recipe. This includes rigatoni, ziti, penne, and reginelle. I think it could also work well with larger shells or macaroni.
The baked rigatoni will be easiest to prepare if you have the tofu and cashew ricotta made ahead of time. I’ve made the dish twice now, and that’s how I chose to prepare it each time.
Once the rigatoni is baked, you can store the leftovers for up to five days in an airtight container in the fridge. Like many baked pasta dishes, this one also lends itself well to freezing. You can freeze individual portions (or however much you’d like to freeze) for up to six weeks.
Normally when I make vegan baked pastas or lasagnas, I top them with vegan cheese shreds or a homemade alternative (like a cashew cream sauce). The nice thing about this baked rigatoni is that the tofu cashew ricotta is substantial, and there’s a lot of it in the recipe. It adds so much creaminess that you don’t really have to worry about a melted cheese.
I’m still battling ambivalence about cooking here, hoping that my sense of inspiration comes back to me soon. Until it does, it’s nice to have meals that soothe my spirit and feel homey. This is one of those. Hope it’ll give you the same feeling.