Tuscan Eggplant in Pasta Shells

3/4 ounce dried morel mushrooms
1/2 cup hot water
1 large garlic clove, peeled
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
1 small eggplant, unpeeled and cut into 1 -inch pieces
6 ounces fresh domestic mushrooms, trimmed and halved
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
l/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
l/2 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and freshly ground black pepper
20 large [2 1/2-inch] pasta shells
8 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and quartered
1/2 cup snipped fresh chives

Soak the morels in the hot water in a 1-cup liquid measure until softened, about 15 minutes. Strain through a sieve lined with a paper towel, reserving the liquid and mushrooms separately.

Drop the garlic through the feed tube of a food processor with the metal blade in place and the motor running. Process until finely chopped, about 10 seconds. Add the onion and pulse until finely chopped, about 6 times. Reserve.

Process the eggplant in 2 batches until coarsely chopped, about 4 pulses for each batch. Reserve.

Chop the morels and fresh mushrooms finely, about 10 pulses. Reserve.

Sauté the garlic and onion in the oil in a large skillet over moderate heat until wilted, about 1 minute. Stir in the eggplant and cook about 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms, mushroom liquid, cream, marjoram, thyme, l/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, stirring often, until the vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes. Cool. (The recipe may be prepared to this point and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 4 months. Adjust seasoning before using.)

Bring 3 quarts lightly salted water to the boil. Add the pasta shells, bring the water back to the boil, and cook until the shells are just tender, about 15 minutes. Drain well.

Meanwhile, process the tomatoes in 4 batches until coarsely chopped, about 6 pulses for each batch. Remove to a strainer and drain for 10 minutes. Transfer to a mixing bowl, stir in the chives, and season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Spoon 1 l/2 tablespoons of the eggplant mixture into each pasta shell and top with 1 tablespoon of the tomatoes. Spread the remaining tomatoes in a shallow baking dish just large enough to hold the shells. Carefully place the shells on the tomatoes open side up. Cover with foil and bake in the center of the preheated oven until heated through, about 20 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Makes 8 servings



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