La Vera Cucina

Mama Flavia’s Penne con Melanzane

In Rome after WWII, young Giovanni Galati’s family was so poor, he and his siblings sometimes went to bed hungry. Still, Giovanni warmly remembers family dinners together, eating pasta with vegetables and tomato sauce on Sundays.

Giovanni’s fortunes changed when an uncle needed help in America. After fulfilling that obligation, Giovanni has since spent every day gratefully pursuing a better life in St. Louis for himself and a family of his own. Now an accomplished restaurateur, Giovanni says that the fragrant aroma of eggplant and onion simmering together still magically rekindles fond childhood memories of helping his mother Flavia lovingly prepare his favorite penne con melanzane.


  • 4 small Japanese eggplants
  • ½ cup fall harvest extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 pound dry penne
  • 1 cup pecorino Romano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ⅛ cup pine nuts, toasted more basil and pecorino for garnish


Wash and peel eggplants; then coarsely chop. In skillet over medium flame, heat olive oil. Add eggplant, onion, and garlic. Sauté for 15 minutes until onions soften. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat. Stir fresh basil leaves through mixture.

Boil large pot of lightly salted water. When water boils, add dry penne. Cook about 9 minutes until reaching al dente stage. Strain off water, reserving 1 cup pasta water to add back if pasta becomes dry. Place half of eggplant mixture into pot with pasta, toss thoroughly. Place pot over medium flame to thoroughly warm. Add back pasta water as needed. When mixture bubbles, add pecorino Romano; stir well. Place pasta and eggplant mixture on a platter; top with second half of eggplant. Garnish with toasted pinenuts, additional basil and pecorino, and enjoy! Serves 6.


About Eggplant

The purple-skinned eggplant or melanzane (mell-an-ZAH-nay) first became a staple of Sicilian and Southern Italian cooking as early as the 9th century AD. The seeds and skins of some larger varieties may impart a bitter alkaloid flavor until salted and soaked. That is why St. Louis restaurateur Giovanni Galati seeks out smaller, far milder Japanese varieties that he uses without salting or peeling.