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Exotic Saffron Scented Pasta with Lentils
- 1 pound cavatelli or cavatappi pasta
- 1/4 cup EVOO - Extra Virgin Olive Oil, divided
- 2 pinches saffron threads or saffron powder
- 3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds (eyeball it)
- 3/4 pound ground pork
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 to 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 pinches crushed red pepper (eyeball it)
- 1 eggplant, peeled and cut into small dice (leave on half the skin for the color and texture it gives the dish)
- 3 to 4 sprigs fresh thyme, finely chopped
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese, plus extra to pass around the table
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt it, add the pasta and cook until al dente (5-7 minutes for frozen or about 14 minutes for dried). Set aside a ladle of pasta water and drain the pasta.
While the pasta is working, in a large, deep skillet, heat 3 tablespoons EVOO, 3 turns of the pan, the saffron and the fennel seeds over medium-high heat. Add the pork, crumbling it into small bits with a wooden spoon, and cook until browned, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and the crushed red pepper, and season with salt and pepper.
Push the meat to the side of the pan and add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, 1 turn of the pan, and the eggplant to the center of the pan; season with salt. Cook the eggplant until just tender, about 5 minutes. Combine with the meat. Add the thyme and toss, then stir in the broth and bring to a boil. Stir in the cream and reduce the heat to low. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Add pasta to the sauce and toss with 1/2 cup cheese until well-combined, adding the reserved pasta cooking water to loosen if it gets too thick.
Serve with more more cheese passed around the table.