Pasta Incaciata. It has long been on my culinary bucket list to make this classic Sicilian pasta dish. Why the procrastination? Perhaps I was intimidated by all the steps. Yes, it is a labor of love that will take time to prepare, but well worth the effort when you bring this stunning dish to the table. Perfect for Italian Sunday Dinner!
Pasta Incaciata, loosely translated means “compressed pasta” and refers to how we press the contents into the pan to shape it for that dramatic presentation.
So, what’s it made of? Pasta, meatballs, eggplant, tomatoes, cheese. Ordinary ingredients perhaps, but this recipe puts them all together in a most impressive presentation! It looks and tastes amazing! Like a classy, sophisticated lasagna.
It took me several hours to prep the ingredients and assemble the dish, although I think that with practice I could do it faster. To make it less overwhelming, I’m breaking the recipe down into easy steps for you to follow. You can opt to do some of the prep in advance, or all at once if time permits. Remember to allow for a few hours rest in the refrigerator before baking, as this helps the Pasta Incaciata to set up and hold its shape.
This dish is traditionally baked in a springform pan, but for just hubby and I, an 8” nonstick cake pan worked perfectly (although it was a little tricky flipping it over!). If you would like to make a larger portion, you could double the sauce and eggplant, and either use a springform pan or make 2 of the 8” cake pans.
We both loved this meal and were surprised at how filling it was. Even with this smaller version we ended up with half left over for several lunches.
- 28 oz. Can tomato sauce (reserve ½ cup for the meatballs)
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 tbsp. Olive oil
- 2 tsp. Brown sugar
- 1 tsp. Basil
- ½ tsp. Oregano
- Fresh ground pepper, to taste
- ½ lb. Ground beef
- ¼ lb. Gluten free Italian sausage
- ½ cup tomato sauce
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup gluten free rolled oats
- ¼ cup potato flakes
- ¼ cup gluten free seasoned breadcrumbs
- ¼ tsp. Gluten free Italian seasoning
- 1 medium eggplant
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Cooking spray
- 4 oz gluten free pasta (I used Jovial penne)
- ½ cup ricotta cheese
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup gluten free seasoned breadcrumbs
First, we’ll make an easy marinara sauce. Heat a heavy saucepan with 1 tbsp. Olive oil. Add the diced onions and cook, stirring frequently until they are translucent. Add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Next add the tomato sauce, reserving ½ cup for the meatballs. Stir in the sugar, basil, oregano and fresh ground pepper. Simmer on low for ½ hour, then remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
Now I can just hear you saying, can’t I cheat and use jar sauce? Of course you can, just be sure it’s gluten free and I’ll never tell!
Next, we will make the meatballs. Whisk together the egg, reserved ½ cup of tomato sauce and Italian seasoning. In a separate bowl, combine the rolled oats, potato flakes and breadcrumbs. Add the beef and sausage to the egg mixture and work it in with your hands.
When it is well combined, add the dry ingredients and continue working the mixture to distribute everything evenly. Line a baking sheet with foil and mist with cooking spray. Form 24 small meatballs (about 1-½ inch) and place them on the baking sheet with space in between. Broil 3 minutes per side on high, then set them aside and cool to room temperature. *Note that I only used one dozen meatballs in this recipe, you can freeze the rest or just save them for an easy meal or sandwiches later in the week.
For the eggplant, cut off a slice at the stem and one from the bottom so that you can stand it up on your cutting board. Run a sharp knife down the sides to remove the skin (note: I prefer the eggplant peeled but if you like the skin just leave it on!). Cut one small round off the top then slice the eggplant lengthwise into thin strips, about ¼” wide.
Cook the eggplant in a large skillet brushed with olive oil. Season the slices as you cook them. The goal here is to cook the eggplant just to where the slices are bendable, they will finish cooking in the oven. Don’t crowd the pan, cook it in batches if needed and keep the slices aside when they are done.
Finally, cook the pasta to 2 minutes less than the package directions. I recommend Jovial Pasta for this recipe because it holds up well to boiling and baking. After cooking, drain and rinse the pasta under cold water.
And now we are finally ready for the assembly. Mist the baking pan generously with cooking spray. We don’t want anything to stick. Place the small round of eggplant in the center of the pan. Next begin layering the largest slices around the pan, letting them drape over the rim, like this. Save a few smaller slices to cover the top.
Whisk together 1 cup of sauce and ½ cup of ricotta cheese. Fold in the pasta, half of the meatballs and half of the grated cheese, then spoon the mixture over the eggplant and top with more sauce (you can reserve about a cup of the sauce for serving).
Fold the eggplant slices inward, then use the smaller slices to fill in the center. Cover with plastic wrap and gently press down on the mixture, so that it will set up in the shape of the pan. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours before baking.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese and breadcrumbs.
Mist a sheet of foil with cooking spray and cover the pan. Don’t make it too tight, you don’t want the foil to stick. Bake for 30 minutes, then carefully remove the foil and bake 30 minutes more. You should see bubbling on the sides of the pan.
Now for the unveiling. Cover the pan with a plate and quickly flip it over! There it is. Rest 10 minutes before serving, garnish with basil and slice into wedges. Serve with more sauce and grated cheese.
Friends, what a meal! I don’t know how often I’ll make this dish, but it is truly a joy for this home cook to say that I’ve done it! And as for being gluten free, I promise no one will even know. You do not have to give up delicious pasta dishes on the gluten free diet, and this recipe is a true testament.
Notes ♪♫ Always check ingredient labels. You know that your pasta and breadcrumbs must be gluten free, but did you also check the sausage? How about that grated cheese? I always buy a block of cheese and grate my own, so I don’t have to worry about additives. You will also want to verify that your rolled oats are gluten free, as well as any seasoning blends.
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