The dark colour and umami flavour of mushrooms are a natural replacement for slow simmered meat in this traditional sauce.
Here are a few tips to make the perfect sauce:
#1: Choose firm eggplants
Over-mature ones often have a more bitter flavour. Keep eggplant moist while roasting; fill a shallow pan with water and place in bottom of oven.
#2: Avoid rubbery mushrooms
Cook in batches over relatively high heat. If the pan is too full or the heat is too low, mushrooms steam versus brown. For best flavour, use a mix of mushrooms such as shiitake and portobello, and throw in a few seasonal mushrooms, such as late-summer chanterelles.
#3: Timing is crucial
Make sure shallots and garlic are soft before adding in rosemary, chili and umami powder.
Preheat oven to 450°F (232°C). Brush both sides of eggplant slices with 1 tbsp (15 mL) oil; lightly sprinkle with salt. Roast in top third of oven until golden around edges and soft in centre, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When hot, add 1 tbsp (15 mL) each oil and butter. Add half the mushrooms; fry until browned around edges, about 8 minutes. Turn into a bowl. Heat 1 tbsp (15 mL) each oil and butter and cook remaining mushrooms; add to bowl. (Reduce heat during cooking, if needed, to prevent burning.)
Reduce heat to medium-low. Add remaining butter to pan; add garlic and shallot. Stir occasionally until soft, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in rosemary, chili and umami powder for last minute of cooking.
Turn eggplant, mushrooms and shallot mixture into a food processor; pulse a few times to chop — mixture should be chunky, not puréed. Place back in pot; stir in tomatoes. Bring to boil over high heat, stirring often; reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes to let flavours blend.
Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain noodles; toss with sauce and basil.
Nutrients per serving: 276 calories, 7 g protein, 14 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 33 g carbohydrates (4 g fibre), 15 mg cholesterol, 196 mg sodium
Note: Takii umami powder is made from shiitake mushrooms. It's vegan, gluten-free and doesn't contain MSG. Look for it in specialty food and health stores or online.