Chef and blogger Alexandra Stafford presents two Italian recipes

Eggplant lovers, rejoice!

If you enjoyed Alexandra Stafford’s succulent cold peanut salad with cucumbers or her sunny summer squash spaghetti with lemon and herbs, you’re in luck! This (very busy) chef, author, blogger and Instagrammer is back with two more sumptuous recipes that focus on fresh, seasonal produce. As usual, her recipes strike a balance between simple and showy: these meals are perfect for a quiet weeknight, but also for an elegant, hassle-free dinner.

If you’re craving carbs, Stafford has a recipe for pasta cooked in heavenly tomato sauce that comes together in no time. The sauce, which is both rich and silky, will also use up your surplus summer tomatoes. Oh, and in case you feel like tomato sauce with pasta is a boring option, remember this dish is sprinkled with a handful of freshly toasted pine nuts. A good dose of salted parmesan completes the whole thing (because can you even have pasta without parmesan?) accompanied by a pile of creamy mozzarella. She recommends the orecchiette, but feel free to use any pasta you like.

For a slightly more elaborate Italian spread that’s sure to impress, Stafford suggests serving eggplant involtini. This recipe calls for baking long slices of eggplant until golden brown, then rolling the strips around a decadent filling of ricotta cheese, breadcrumbs and a bright splash of lemon zest. Note that the involtini will require spare tomato sauce, so have a good recipe in mind beforehand (or just buy jarred sauce from the grocery store – we won’t tell).

Now that you have some inspiring dinner ideas, all you need to do is consider a light and fresh summer salad to go with your heartier main course (salad pro tip: make your own quality dressing restaurant is not as difficult as it looks).

Pasta with simple cherry tomato sauce

For 4 people

¼ cup olive oil
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
kosher salt
12 ounces of pasta, such as orecchiette
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or less if serving to children)
1 pound small sweet tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (just over an ounce), plus more to taste
4 ounces small mozzarella balls or shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced ​​or more to taste
fresh cracked black pepper


Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place the pine nuts in a small skillet and heat over the lowest possible heat.

Meanwhile, place the olive oil, shallots and garlic in a large skillet. Season with a pinch of salt. Turn up the heat. As soon as you see the oil start to shimmer, stir in the shallots and garlic, cover the lid and lower the heat. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the shallots and garlic are very tender.

When the pasta water boils, add 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Boil the pasta until al dente (11-12 minutes for the orecchiette, but check your package for the exact time).

Meanwhile, uncover the pan lid with the shallots and garlic. Add crushed red pepper flakes and stir briefly. Increase the heat to medium and add the tomatoes. Season with a pinch of salt. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to break down. Add 1 cup of water and bring to a gentle boil. Taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Before draining the pasta, reserve about a cup of the pasta cooking liquid. (You may not need the pasta cooking liquid, but reserve some just in case.) Drain the pasta. Do not rinse or shake. Immediately transfer the drained pasta to the tomato sauce and stir to combine. Lower the heat to low.

Check the pine nuts. Increase the heat to medium and stir constantly until the pine nuts are toasted – don’t step away from the pan for a second. Add them to the pasta once grilled.

Add parmesan to pasta and fresh cracked pepper to taste. To taste. Season with salt to taste if necessary. Add some of the reserved pasta cooking liquid if the sauce has thickened too much – I don’t need the reserved liquid yet, but I always reserve some if I need it. Add more Parmesan to taste if desired.

When the sauce is seasoned to your liking, add the mozzarella and basil, stir to combine, then serve immediately. Grate more Parmesan on top if desired. Pepper on top if you wish too.

Simple Roasted Eggplant Involtini

For 2 to 4 people

1 to 2 medium eggplants
kosher salt and pepper
olive oil for brushing
¾ cup tomato sauce
1 to 2 tablespoons heavy cream or half and half, optional
Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano to serve
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs or panko
1 cup fresh whole milk ricotta
grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste


Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or rub lightly with olive oil. Cut off the stem end of each eggplant. Hold the eggplant vertically and make 1/4 inch thick cuts to create long slices. Arrange on a plate. Pour about 3 tablespoons of oil into a small dish. Brush each eggplant slice with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for 10 minutes. Flip. Brush the other side with oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast 5 to 8 minutes more or until starting to brown.
Remove the pan from the oven and set aside.

Meanwhile, prepare the garnish. In a bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, ricotta, lemon zest and salt. To taste. Adjust with a pinch of salt if necessary.

Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Pour the tomato sauce into a 9-inch round baking dish or similar sized container until the bottom of the dish is covered in a thin layer. Place a spoonful (about 2 teaspoons) of filling on one end of each eggplant slice. Roll the slice around the filling and place it seam side down in the dish over the tomato sauce. Drizzle or brush the cream over the rolls to moisten them. Bake until the edges of the sauce on the sides of the dish are dark and the rolls are nicely caramelized, 20 to 25 minutes. Garnish with Parmesan before serving.

Alexandra Stafford lives in upstate New York with her husband and four children. Her cookbooktoasted breadcrumbs, was nominated for the 2017 IACP Julia Child First Book Award. Alexandra’s culinary journey began in 2003 when she graduated from Yale and moved to Philadelphia, where she attended culinary school and worked in professional kitchens. After spending two years at Fork, first as a prep and then as a sous chef, she left the restaurant business and started her blog, Alexandra’s Kitchen. Today, she updates her blog weekly with new recipes and also contributes to various food websites and magazines.

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