2 pounds small eggplant such as Japanese eggplant (If Japanese eggplant is not available, use regular eggplant, see Chef Tip above)
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 1/4 cups sweet onion, diced
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
Pinch red pepper flakes
2 pounds any variety tomato, cored and diced
6 tablespoons tomato paste
6 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped and divided
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
12 ounces dry ziti
16 ounces whole milk ricotta
8 ounces sharp provolone, shredded on large holes of a box grater
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded on large holes of a box grater
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Line a sheet tray with foil then brush the foil generously with olive oil.
Brush a 9X13 inch casserole dish bottom and sides with olive oil and set aside.
If using Japanese eggplant, trim ends, leave skin on then cut into one-inch chunks and place into a bowl. If using regular eggplant, trim and peel and then cut into chunks. (Try to avoid cooking a really large regular eggplant as they will require salting the cubes and sitting for an hour to remove bitterness.)
Add ½ cup of the olive oil, 1 teaspoon of the salt and a half teaspoon of pepper to the bowl with the eggplant and toss to coat. Pour out onto the prepared sheet tray and bake for 30 minutes, tossing them with a spatula half way through.
Bring a pot of water to a boil.
While eggplant is cooking, in a large skillet, add remaining olive oil and over medium heat, add onions, garlic and the pepper flakes and cook for three minutes.
Add the cut-up tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tablespoons of the basil, the mint, parsley, sugar, remaining salt, remaining pepper and bring to a slow simmer and cook until the pasta is ready on the next step.
Add salt to the boiling water and add the ziti and cook short of fully cooked. The pasta needs to be a little chewy as it will cook further in the oven. Save three cups of the pasta water and drain the ziti.
Place the drained ziti back in the pan and hold.
Thin the sauce down with a cup or more of the pasta water, taste and add more salt and pepper as needed, then pour over the cooked ziti and stir. Add more pasta water as needed to thin down if too thick.
Stir in all of the ricotta cheese and the remaining 4 tablespoons of the fresh basil.
Remove the roasted eggplant from the oven and add to the pasta and sauce and gently stir.
Pour this mixture into the prepared casserole dish.
Top with the shredded provolone and Parmesan cheese and bake for 30 minutes. The top should get browned and crusty and the center soft and creamy with the pasta perfectly cooked.
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