Eggplant Parm Pesto

published Sep 7, 2022
Eggplant Parm Pesto Recipe

This red sauce pesto pasta is packed with all the flavor of eggplant parm minus all the work.

Serves4 to 6

Prep20 minutes

Cook1 hour 5 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes

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eggplant parm pesto in spaghetti
Credit: Photo: Chris SImpson; Food Styling; Jessie YuChen

Eggplant Parm is in my top five favorite foods to eat. I find it hard to resist if it’s on a menu. But to make a good version of it at home takes time, patience, and one too many steps. Enter: eggplant Parmesan pesto. It has all the flavor of eggplant Parm, without all the work. It’s as if it can look my craving right in the eye (if that was a thing) and say, “I’ve got you.” 

This loose take on pesto requires the flesh of roasted eggplant. If you need to avoid nuts, good news: None are required for this recipe! Eggplant is blended with a garlic-oregano-and-tomato paste olive oil, then blitzed with fresh basil and lots of Parmesan. The unexpected twist is a touch of breadcrumbs — a subtle nod to the texture and taste of a steaming hot plate of eggplant Parm. 

Roasting the eggplant is the most time-consuming part of this recipe, but once that’s done, the pesto comes together quickly and dinner can be served in a snap. Get ahead of the game and roast the eggplant in advance, perhaps while you’ve got the oven going with something else the night before. 

Credit: Photo: Chris SImpson; Food Styling; Jessie YuChen

If You’re Going to Make Eggplant Parm Pesto, a Few More Tips

  • Add pasta water. When using this pesto on pasta, adding butter and some of the pasta cooking water creates a glossy sauce.
  • Swap in your favorite type of pasta. This pesto is meant to be versatile. If you prefer short-shaped pasta (like rigatoni), use it in place of the spaghetti.
  • Ditch the pasta. Try it as a base for pizza, or spread it on a sandwich.
  • Freeze what you don’t use. If you’re cooking for one or two, use what you’d like and store the pesto in the refrigerator to use throughout the week, or freeze some in ice cube trays for future you. Disclaimer: It’s so good, it’s hard not to eat it right off a spoon.

Eggplant Parm Pesto Recipe

This red sauce pesto pasta is packed with all the flavor of eggplant parm minus all the work.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 1 hour 5 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1

    medium eggplant (about 1 pound)

  • 1/4 cup

    plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided

  • 1/4 cup

    panko or fine, dry unseasoned breadcrumbs

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    plus 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, divided, plus more for cooking pasta

  • 1 large clove

    garlic

  • 1 teaspoon

    dried oregano

  • 1/4 cup

    tomato paste

  • 1 large sprig

    fresh basil, plus more for serving

  • 1 1/2 ounces

    Parmesan cheese (1/2 cup store-bought grated), plus more for serving

  • 1/8 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 pound

    dried spaghetti

  • 2 tablespoons

    unsalted butter

Instructions

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 400ºF. Place 1 medium eggplant on a rimmed baking sheet (line with parchment paper first if desired). Roast, flipping halfway through, until soft when squeezed and slightly collapsed, 45 to 50 minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add 1/4 cup panko or fine breadcrumbs and cook, stirring often, until deeply golden brown, 1 1/2 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and season with 1/8 teaspoon of the kosher salt. Transfer to a small bowl. Let the saucepan cool slightly, then wipe clean.

  3. Peel and press 1 large garlic clove against the cutting board with the flat side of a knife to crush. Heat the remaining 1/4 cup of the olive oil in the same saucepan over medium-low heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and 1 teaspoon dried oregano and cook, stirring often, until fragrant and the garlic is just lightly golden, 1 to 2 minutes.

  4. Add 1/4 cup tomato paste (it will sputter) and cook, stirring continuously, until darkened in color, about 2 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let cool completely, at least 10 minutes.

  5. When the eggplant is ready, set aside until cool enough to touch. Halve the eggplant lengthwise and scoop out the flesh with a spoon into a food processor (about 1 to 1 1/4 packed cups); discard the skin. Let cool for about 15 minutes.

  6. Meanwhile, pick the leaves from 1 large fresh basil sprig until you have 1/4 cup. Tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces and add to the food processor. Finely grate 1 1/2 ounces Parmesan cheese if needed (about 3/4 packed cup), or measure out 1/2 cup store-bought grated.

  7. Add the cooled tomato paste mixture to the food processor. Pulse until well combined and smooth, about 20 (1-second) pulses. Add the Parmesan, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Pulse until just combined, about 5 (1-second) pulses. Add the breadcrumbs and pulse until just combined, about 5 pulses. (You should have about 1 3/4 cups pesto.)

  8. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add 1 pound dried spaghetti and cook according to package directions until al dente. Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta.

  9. Return the pasta to the pot. Add the pesto, 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, and 3/4 cup of the pasta cooking water. Toss quickly with tongs until well coated, gradually adding 1/4 to 1/2 cup more pasta cooking water, if needed, until pasta is coated in pesto. Garnish with more Parmesan and fresh basil leaves if desired.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The eggplant can be roasted up to 1 day ahead, scooped out, and refrigerated in an airtight container. Alternatively, the pesto can be made up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container or frozen for up to 1 month. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before using.

Storage: Leftover pasta can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.