- 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated (1 1/2 cups)
- 1 (14.5 oz) can fire-roasted diced tomaotes
- 3 cups roasted red peppers, rinsed, patted dry, and coarsely chopped (24 oz jar)
- 1 1/2 lbs eggplant, chopped into 1-inch cubes
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp minced fresh oregano, or 1/4 tsp dried
- 1/8-1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
- 4 cups water
- 12 oz short pasta shapes (I used rotini)
- 6 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced thin
- 2-3 Tbs chopped fresh basil
Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 375 degrees. Toss the panko with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet and bake, stirring often, until golden-brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Let cool slightly and then toss with 1/2 cup of the Parmesan.
Meanwhile, pulse the tomatoes and red peppers in the food processor until coarsely ground and no large pieces remain, about 10 pulses.
Line a large plate with a double layer of paper towels. Toss the eggplant in a medium bowl with 1 teaspoon of salt and then spread it out over the plate. Microwave uncovered, about 10 minutes, tossing halfway through. The eggplant should be dry and starting to shrivel. Let the eggplant cool slightly, then toss with 1 tablespoon of the oil in the bowl. Set aside.
Heat 1 Tablespoon of the oil in a 12-inch ovensafe skillet over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant and cook until well browned and tender, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Return to the bowl.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Saute the garlic, red pepper flakes, and oregano until fragrant but not browned, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomato mixture and 1 teaspoon of salt, and increase the heat to medium-high. Stir in 3 1/2 cups of water and the pasta. Cover and cook at a vigorous simmer, stirring often, until the pasta is tender, 15 to 18 minutes.
If the sauce seems too thick, stir in the remaining 1/2 cup water. Add the remaining 1 cup of Parmesan and eggplant, and season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine, then top with the slices of mozzarella. Sprinkle the panko mixture over the cheese and transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake until the topping is well-browned and cheese is melted, 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle the basil over the top and serve.