Here’s a baked ziti with oomph! Packed full of delicious eggplant, fire roasted peppers and robust sausage, this slow cooker meal will have them coming back for seconds!
As a BHG Pro Pinner, I get to see a LOT of recipes when I pin for them. This one really caught my eye because I love eggplant to excess!
There were a couple of things I knew I would change from the original recipe. For instance, I thought 2 fennel bulbs were too much. That has a pretty strong flavor and since fennel seed is already in Italian sausage, I didn’t want the extra. Fennel is also called anise, so if you’re making the recipe and your store calls it “anise” as mine does, it’s the right thing to buy.
I also like red pasta sauces a bit on the sweet side, so I added sugar. And of course, I added more cheese!!!
While bulk sausage is much more convenient, if you have any Italian sausage lurking in your freezer as I have, twisting the meat out of the casing in quite easy–and cheaper if you already have the sausages.
I had a pack with 1/2 sweet and 1/2 hot, and that’s what I used here, although the original calls for sweet only.
This was very very good–as I thought it would be. The fennel wasn’t overpowering at all and gave the pasta a lovely understated flavor. The eggplant gets very soft and the blend of the fennel, eggplant and fire roasted tomatoes tastes very much like caponata (an eggplant spread used as an appetizer on crackers).
This is definitely a meal I’d make again!
- 8 oz bulk Italian sausage (I used a combo of hot and sweet)
- 1 can (14.5 oz) fire roasted diced tomatoes (don't drain)
- 1 head of fennel (also known as anise)
- 1 large eggplant
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbs tomato paste
- ½ cup water
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- 1 tsp Italian seasoning
- 2 tbs sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 6 oz uncooked ziti or penne
- 1½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- Brown sausage meat; drain and place in the crock of a 5-7 quart slow cooker
- Peel eggplant and cut into cubes about 1-inch big; add to crock.
- Cut stems off fennel, core and slice thinly, add to crock.
- Add the garlic, tomato paste, fire roasted tomatoes, water, wine, Italian seasoning, sugar and salt to the crock. Stir well to combine.
- Cover and cook on high 3-3½ hours, low 6-7 hours
- Add the uncooked ziti--if you cooked on low, turn it up to high to cook the pasta--stirring so the pasta is submerged in the sausage/eggplant mixture.
- Cook for 30 minutes on high
- Stir and sprinkle with the shredded cheese; cover and cook 10 minutes.
- Uncover and let the baked ziti stand on warm setting for 5-10 minutes before serving.