Eggplant Turban Filled with Ditalini

2 large eggplants
salt to taste
extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
salt and pepper to taste
4 tablespoons tomato paste
large pinch dried oregano leaves
1 pound ditalini
6 ounces frozen or blanched fresh young peas
12 ounces jack, fontina or mozzarella cheese, diced
5 to 6 ounces freshly grated asiago, pecorino or parmesan

Cut the eggplants crosswise into 1/4- inch-thick slices. Sprinkle with salt and set aside for 30 minutes. Rinse well, then pat dry. Arrange the eggplant on a baking sheet. Brush both sides with olive oil and broil until they are lightly browned on each side. Toss with half of the garlic; set aside.

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. Sprinkle in the flour and cook for a few moments over medium heat until the flour is lightly cooked. Remove from the heat for a minute, add the milk all at once, stir well to combine, then return to the heat and cook, stirring until thickened, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper; stir in the tomato paste and oregano. Set aside.

Cook the ditalini in rapidly boiling salted water until al dente; drain well. Combine with the sauce, peas, reserved garlic and cheeses. Line an oiled round mold (or pan) with the eggplant slices. Spoon the pasta and sauce into the center, then pat down firmly. Bake in a 350 degrees oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the pan and let settle for 10 minutes. Loosen the edges of the mold with a knife and invert onto a plate. Garnish with sprigs of fresh herbs and serve, if desired, surrounded by grilled sausages.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.



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