My aunt fries all of her eggplant in the summer when the Creole eggplants are in season. She then freezes them and keeps them in my mom's freezer because my mom has a generator for when we lose power during hurricane season. When winter rolls around and we want a comforting baked pasta dish, the eggplant comes out of the freezer and we get to work on this meaty, cheesy, delicious pasta.
Technique tip: If you plan on freezing the dish, assemble it as normal, place the parchment paper over the top, then wrap the dish fully in plastic wrap (all the way around, bottom and top) to prevent freezer burn. Also, freeze the excess sauce for reheating and serving on the side.
When ready to serve, pull the dish out of the freezer in the morning and set it out on the counter to thaw. Preheat oven to 350 F. Remove the plastic wrap, keep the parchment paper on top and cover it with a sheet of aluminum foil. Bake for 40 minutes, then remove the foil and parchment paper and continue to cook for an additional 10 minutes, or until the cheese is golden and bubbling.
Swap option: If you cannot find Caciocavallo cheese, provolone will work.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta in salted water until al dente, remove from the water and let cool in a large pan.2.
Slice the eggplant into thin strips and sprinkle lightly with salt. Let sit for 10 minutes to release excess water. Rinse under water and pat dry with a paper towel.3.
Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Working in batches, fry the eggplant strips until golden-brown; reserve on a paper towel-lined tray.4.
In a sauce pot over medium-high heat, brown the ground beef and pork in olive oil, about 10 minutes. Add in the onions and garlic, and brown for an additional 4 minutes.5.
Add the tomato paste, crushed San Marzano tomatoes, sugar and salt to the pot and let simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and fold in the fresh basil leaves and green peas.6.
Preheat oven to 350 F.7.
In a ceramic baking dish, spread a layer of tomato sauce on the bottom followed by a layer of fried eggplant, then a layer of pasta, then more sauce, then slices of Caciocavallo cheese, then more eggplant, then pasta, then sauce, then more eggplant, then more Caciocavallo cheese, then a healthy sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano (reserve excess sauce for serving on the side with the baked pasta).8.
Top the pasta with a piece of parchment paper then a sheet of foil. Place the dish into the oven for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and parchment and cook for an additional 10 minutes, or until the cheese is golden and bubbling.