There’s a tiny Italian take-out place near us in the West Village that is just amazing. Now, I’m from New Jersey, the land of the cheesy Italian take-out joints, so I was skeptical when we first walked into Pepe Verde three years ago. I was used to baked ziti that came burned and so full of cheese that it could give you a dairy allergy, but Pepe is different. They turn out incredible dishes night after night from a kitchen that is barely bigger than my own. You just put your order in at the counter and wait for your meal at one of their 7 tables with a plastic cup of wine, or order out on those nights that you want to eat at home, but just can’t seem to fathom cooking.
Pepe Verde’s best dishes are its simplest; the pesto is creamy perfection and the eggplant parm is a weighty piece of expertly tiered, thinly sliced eggplant, red sauce and mozzarella. But the dish that kept Sam and I coming back was the Pasta Siciliana. With its combination of eggplant, tomatoes, and olives topped with a cool spoonful of ricotta, it was a rustic, salty, and sweet fresh dish that I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to recreate. The ingredients seemed simple enough, but there was a special “Pepe” flavor that I just couldn’t seem to place.
Nevertheless, last week, I finally attempted our favorite dish, and although it was wonderful, flavorful and delicious, it still lacked that special Pepe something. I guess we'll just have to keep going back for our Siciliana fix.
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1 in. cubes
salt & pepper
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, sliced
½ c. thinly sliced pitted black olives
2 tbsp. ricotta, at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the cherry tomatoes and eggplant on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper and toss to coat the vegetables. Roast the vegetables for 30 minutes or until they are tender and the eggplant is golden. Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes to cool. Process until just finely chopped in a food processor. In a pan, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil and add the sliced garlic. Saute for 2-3 minutes until fragrant then add the diced tomatoes. Add in the eggplant and tomato mixture to the pan and combine. Season to taste and let simmer for 15 minutes. Add the sliced olives and let simmer for another 5 minutes. Serve over your choice of pasta and top with parmesan and a dollop of ricotta.