When Lidia Bastianich isn't running one of her many restaurants from N.Y.C. to Kansas City, Mo., shooting her new PBS show, Lidia Celebrates America: Moments and Milestones, or penning a new cookbook, Lidia's Commonsense Italian Cooking ($21; amazon.com) she might be found cooking for her family on a Sunday afternoon. And this outrageously yummy riff on spaghetti and meatballs is one of her go-to recipes. "The earthy flavor of eggplant, mixed with the acidity and sweetness of the tomatoes, makes for harmony in a pot," she says.SERVES 4-6
1 lb. ground chuck
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ cup grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
½ cup fine bread crumbs
1 large egg, beaten
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp kosher salt
SAUCE AND PASTA:
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 medium peeled Italian eggplant, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 28 oz. can whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand Salt
1 lb. dried tagliatelle
¼ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
½ cup grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1. For the meatballs: Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well; form into 1½-inch meatballs on a sheet pan.
2. For the sauce: In a large straight-sided skillet, heat oil over medium heat. When oil is hot, add garlic. Once garlic is sizzling, add eggplant.
3. Cook eggplant for 10 minutes, constantly stirring; add tomatoes.
4. Slosh out tomato can with 2 cups water and add to the skillet.
5. Bring sauce to a simmer; cook until eggplant is almost tender, about 10–15 minutes.
6. Add uncooked meatballs; simmer until meat is cooked through, about 20-25 minutes.
7. In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; cook pasta until al dente.
8. When pasta is ready, use tongs to transfer it to the skillet of sauce. Sprinkle in basil.
9. Toss to coat the pasta with sauce, adding a bit of pasta water if the sauce seems too thick. Add salt to taste. Remove skillet from heat, toss in cheese, and serve.