This Red Pesto Pasta with Eggplant is amazing! I toss flavorful sun-dried tomato pesto with pasta and buttery, roasted eggplant. Then I top the dish off with creamy, whipped ricotta cheese. It's a delicious and soul-satisfying vegetarian pasta dish that will become a staple in your family's dinner rotation.
I love making homemade pesto. Pesto is so easy to make, versatile, and doesn't require any cooking! Some of my favorite pesto dishes are my Grilled Cheese with Avocado Pesto, Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Marcona Almond Pesto, and Fettuccini with Collard Greens Pesto and Grilled Shrimp.
I recently posted a recipe for my Pesto Rosso, or red pesto, a variation of Italian pesto that's made with sun-dried tomatoes. This delicious condiment can be incorporated into a wide variety of dishes but my favorite way to use it is to stir it into a bowl of delicious pasta.
What is red pesto pasta?
Red pesto pasta is a delicious pasta dish made by tossing pasta with red pesto, which is also known as pesto rosso or sun-dried tomato pesto.
If you've never heard of it, pesto rosso (which translates to "red pesto"), is a variation of Italian pesto that uses sun-dried tomatoes. When most of us hear the word pesto, we think of pesto genovese, the classic green basil pesto. Pesto genovese is made with fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano.
Pesto rosso, on the other hand, is made with sundried tomatoes and heart-healthy almonds, which are blended together with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and fresh herbs. Some varieties also add other ingredients to the mix like roasted red peppers or olives.
Red pesto has a lovely deep red color and intense flavor that's hard to beat. It adds a pop of rich flavor and umami to any dish!
You can use it to top grilled meat or fish. You can even stir it into your eggs or use it as a sandwich spread. But my favorite way to use it is to stir it into a bowl of delicious pasta.
A twist on pasta alla Norma
My Red Pesto Pasta with Eggplant is a twist on pasta alla Norma. Pasta alla Norma is a classic Sicilian dish made with pasta, tomato sauce, fried eggplant and crumbly ricotta salata cheese. My husband absolutely loves eggplant and this is one of his favorite dishes.
My dish has all the flavors of pasta alla Norma but with less work. Instead of making a homemade tomato sauce, I use my pesto rosso, which requires no cooking. Simply blend all the ingredients in a food processor and you're done!
Instead of frying the eggplant, I roast the eggplant in the oven. Eggplant absorbs oil like a sponge when it's fried, so roasting the eggplant lightens up the dish significantly. It's also easier and less messy!
Instead of using ricotta salata, which is a crumbly Italian cheese, I top my dish with dollops of whipped ricotta cheese instead. As you stir the ricotta into the pasta, it forms a delicious, creamy sauce that takes this dish over the top!
If you're a fan of eggplant parmesan, you'll love this dish. It has all the flavors and ingredients of eggplant parmesan but with a lot less work!
Is red pesto pasta healthy?
Red pesto is made with nutritious ingredients like sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, and almonds. These are staples of the Mediterranean diet, a healthy-eating plan that incorporates the traditional flavors and ingredients of the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.
- The Mediterranean diet emphasizes plant-based foods such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices. Read my post about the nutritional benefits of nuts.
- Olive oil, which is rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, is the main source of fat. Read my post about the health benefits of olive oil.
- Lean protein from fish, seafood and poultry is consumed in moderation. Seafood is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and should be eaten 2-3 times a week. Read my post about seafood and omega-3s.
Eggplant is rich in fiber and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. It's also rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules that help the body eliminate free radicals (unstable molecules that can damage cells).
To make this dish healthier, I roast the eggplant in the oven instead of frying it like many traditional Italian dishes do. This method uses a lot less oil and lightens up the dish.
If you want to incorporate some nutritious whole grains into the dish, you can use whole grain pasta. The US Dietary Guidelines recommend that half of the grains you eat should be whole grains. To learn more, read my post on everything you need to know about whole grains.
Variations and substitutions
- Red pesto (sun-dried tomato pesto)- I use my homemade pesto rosso (red pesto) recipe; you can also buy prepared red pesto from the grocery store. It's sold as either red pesto, pesto rosso or sun-dried tomato pesto.
- Rotini- I like to use this corkscrew-shaped pasta but you can substitute other shapes like rigatoni, penne or farfalle
- Eggplant- I love the combination of eggplant with the flavorful red pesto and creamy ricotta cheese. You can use other vegetables like roasted mushrooms, roasted red pepper, spinach or zucchini.
- Ricotta cheese- I whip the ricotta in a food processor to make it extra fluffy (see instructions below). It adds richness to this dish as you stir it into the pasta.
- Fresh basil- adds fresh flavor and color; it's also used in the red pesto.
How to make this dish
1. Prep the eggplant
First, peel and chop the eggplant. You can leave the skin on or peel it off completely depending on your preference. I prefer the middle ground and like to peel off some of the eggplant skin in strips. Leaving some skin on prevents the eggplant from falling apart as it cooks. But it's not so much skin that you get big chewy pieces in your mouth.
2. Roast the eggplant
Next, toss the cubed eggplant with olive oil, salt, and pepper on a sheet pan. Roast in the oven until tender. Meanwhile, start cooking the pasta.
3. Make the red pesto
While the eggplant is cooking, make the red pesto (pesto rosso). Blend sun-dried tomatoes, almonds, garlic, basil, parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar, red pepper flakes, and olive oil in a food processor.
4. Whip the ricotta
This step is optional but whipping the ricotta cheese in a food processor takes this dish over the top! Whipping the ricotta gives it a fluffy, cloud-like texture that's so good on the pasta.
5. Toss the pasta with the pesto and eggplant
Once the pasta is cooked, drain it, being sure to save about a cup of the pasta water. Then stir some of the red pesto into the hot pasta. Stir in some of the reserved pasta water until the sauce clings to the pasta. Then, stir in the roasted eggplant.
6. Top with a dollop of ricotta
Serve the pasta with dollops of whipped ricotta and fresh basil on top. Stir the ricotta into the pasta and devour!
What to serve with this dish
You can top this dish with my 4-Ingredient Dairy-Free Parmesan Cheese.
There are so many ways to use it! Use it to top grilled chicken, steak or seafood. You can also spread it on sandwiches or stir it into dishes like scrambled eggs or mashed potatoes for a boost of flavor. Check out my Pesto Rosso (Red Pesto) post to get even more ideas!
I use rotini in this dish but you can use other pasta shapes as well. I like to use shapes that have ridges or folds that the sauce will cling to like rotini, rigatoni, penne or farfalle. However, you can use any shape pasta that you like.
A wide variety of vegetables would work well in this dish including roasted or sautéed mushrooms, spinach, zucchini or roasted red peppers. You can also add diced chicken breast, meatballs or shrimp to this pasta dish.
I add whipped ricotta to this dish because it forms a creamy sauce when you stir it into the pasta. You can substitute some heavy cream or half and half.
More Italian Recipes
Red Pesto Pasta with Eggplant
- 3 small or 2 large eggplants (about 1 ½ pounds total)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 1 pound rotini or other pasta
- 1 cup pesto rosso (red pesto)
- ½ cup ricotta cheese
- ¼ cup fresh basil, torn
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Using a vegetable peeler, peel off strips of the skin from the eggplants, leaving some skin in place.* Cut the eggplant into 1-inch cubes.
- Place the diced eggplant on two baking sheets. Toss them with the olive oil and season them with salt and pepper. Bake in the oven until golden brown, about 25 minutes, stirring halfway through. Remove from oven.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 ½ cups of the pasta water.
- Return the hot, dry pot to the stove and heat over low heat. Add the cooked pasta, the pesto rosso, and about 1 cup of the reserved pasta water. Stir to combine. Add more pasta water as needed to coat the pasta. Gently stir in the cooked eggplant.
- Whip the ricotta cheese in a food processor until smooth and fluffy (optional step).
- Serve the pasta in bowls and top with fresh basil and dollops of whipped ricotta.