Pasta with Eggplant Sauce

8 ounces bulk hot Italian sausage
1 medium eggplant
1 28 ounce canItalian-style whole peeled tomatoes in puree, cut up
8 ounces fresh cremini and/or button mushrooms, sliced
1 6 ounce canItalian-style tomato paste
1/2 cup chopped onion (1 medium)
1/2 cup dry red wine
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup assorted snipped fresh herbs (such as basil, oregano, thyme, and/or Italian [flat-leaf] parsley)
1/3 cup pitted Kalamata or other Italian olives, sliced
Salt and ground black pepper (optional)
6 cups hot cooked penne pasta
1/4 cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese (1 ounce)
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts (optional)

1. In a large skillet cook sausage over medium-high heat until brown. Drain off fat. If desired, peel eggplant. Cut eggplant into 1-inch pieces.
2. In a 4- to 5-1/2-quart slow cooker combine sausage, eggplant, tomatoes in puree, mushrooms, tomato paste, onion, wine, and garlic.
3. Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 7 to 8 hours or on high-heat setting for 3-1/2 to 4 hours. Stir in herbs and olives. If desired, season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Serve eggplant mixture over hot cooked pasta. Sprinkle with cheese and, if desired, pine nuts.

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