Every week, our test kitchen team visits New York City’s biggest farmers market: the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan. Comprised of over 70 stalls bursting with flowers, local products, and beautiful seasonal produce, it’s the perfect place for a hit of mid-week culinary inspiration. Follow us on Instagram to tag along (bring a tote bag, it’s impossible to leave empty handed!) and see what we decide to make with our market haul.
Visiting the market first thing in the morning has its advantages: you get your pick of the produce before anything sells out, you are liable to spot a fancy restaurant chef in the wild shopping for that night’s dinner service, and you beat the heat, escaping with your purchases before crowds double the humidity index. This week, however, it was already teetering on too hot for shopping by the time we arrived at Union Square, making it hard to think about cooking at all. Could we get away with claiming that our market inspiration this time around was…snow cones?
Luckily we spotted summer’s #1 cutest produce item on sale for $5 per pound and quickly got back on track. Fairytale eggplants, with their characteristic tiny size and streaky lavender exterior, are the darlings of the nightshade family and are easily sliced into coins for pasta dishes, stir-fries, or grain salads. Back at the test kitchen, we adapted one of our favorite eggplant-based Italian meals, rigatoni alla norma, into a make-ahead style pasta salad, ideal for a picnic lunch or beach trip, with fairytales as the star. (Note: baby eggplant, or a smaller regular eggplant cut into a medium dice will work just as well.)
Pasta Salad Alla Norma
8 oz rigatoni pasta
1 ¼ lbs fairytale or baby eggplant (about 15 medium fairytales), cut into ¼-inch rounds
¾ lb cherry tomatoes (about 1 pint), halved
2 tbsp capers, roughly chopped
⅛ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
3 anchovy fillets, finely chopped2 cloves garlic, finely grated
¼ cup mint leaves, finely chopped, plus more for garnishing
4 oz ricotta salata, roughly grated or shaved
A few sprigs of basil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Cook the pasta:
In a pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta according to package instructions. Drain thoroughly and rinse with cool water. Place in a large bowl and toss with a drizzle of olive oil to keep from sticking.
2. Cook the eggplant:
In a large pan, heat a thin layer of olive oil on medium-high until hot. Working in batches, add the eggplant pieces in an even layer; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, 7 to 9 minutes per batch, or until golden brown and softened (add a drizzle of olive oil between batches). Transfer to a plate.
3. Cook the tomatoes:
In the same pan, heat a drizzle of olive oil on medium-high until hot. Add the halved tomatoes in an even layer. Cook, without stirring, 3 to 4 minutes, or until slightly softened. Add the chopped capers and anchovies, red pepper flakes, and garlic paste; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, 1 to 2 minutes, or until softened and fragrant. Add the chopped mint and cook, stirring frequently, 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until combined. Turn off the heat.
4. Dress the pasta:
To the bowl of cooked pasta, add the cooked eggplant, cooked tomatoes, half the cheese, and a drizzle of olive oil; stir to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with the remaining cheese, basil, and mint (tearing the leaves before adding). Enjoy!
HOT TIP: If you’re packing this dish up for a picnic, wrap up a few sprigs of mint and basil in a paper towel to bring along separately; tear the leaves and scatter on top just before serving, so they don’t wilt and brown in transit.