Cooking for yourself can be great, but cooking for the people who enrich your life can be truly awesome. Having wonderful friends is a real blessing and a large part of my enjoyment of cooking. When I know I will be cooking for important people in my life you can bet that I'm going to give it my best as a way of giving another part of myself back to my friends and family. And this past weekend I was lucky enough to go camping with some of them at Assateague Island National Seashore.
Nothing like soaking up some sun, napping on the beach, and keeping an eye out for wild ponies to pass the time. Not to mention the assured availability of cooking on a fire. Since my apartment has no backyard and my grill is currently on loan until I can secure enough acreage to justify it's triumphant return, my live fire cooking prospects have been slim as of late. Cooking over a campfire offers my inner griller just enough of a buzz to satisfy me. Think of it as a nicotine patch for charcoal briquettes.
Now, I know that there is nothing wrong with roasting a few hot dogs over a campfire (and I'm glad we still did that!), but I wanted to do something a bit more unexpected while we were camping. I wanted something that was appropriate for that kind of "fire power" but also wasn't just something else to grill. And I know I've been posting a lot of this lately (which I will be taking a break from after this post, I swear), but I wanted to cook pasta on the campfire. This does pose a few problems. For one, bringing 6 qts of water to a boil on a small campfire grill takes a loooooooooooonnnnnnggg amount of time. Glaciers move faster. And the sauce? Do I simmer it for hours on the fire? How will I regulate temperature of there is too much/too little wind? Does carrying a stock pot to campsite even make sense?! All these things are important to think about when you've got four other hunger campers to feed and a backup plan isn't really a possibility. The answer is plan and pack ahead of time. Admittedly, I made some tomato ragout the day before we left and brought it with me. Because I was going to bring the sauce with me I had to justify the use of the campfire over a camp stove in some way. I decided to roast an eggplant directly on the hot coals from the fire and add that to the sauce to give it more flavor and add some body. While this takes a fair amount of time to prepare, it will be gobbled up quickly and will still leave you with a little room for a s'more or two.
1 large eggplant
1 head of garlic
2 cups tomato ragout or tomato sauce
20oz. fettucine rigate
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
fresh breadcrumbs or panko to garnish
salt and pepper to taste
First you will need to get a good campfire going. As the logs turn into ashed over coals, move them to one side of the fire. Make sure to keep the fire going strong on the other side of the pit. Place a stock pot with 6 qts. of salted water and 2 tbsp olive oil on the fire side. This will take a long time to get to a boil if you don't have a lid like me. Cook pasta until al dente. Meanwhile...
On the other side, place your eggplant directly onto some hot coals. Cut the top off of your head of garlic and place on a piece of tinfoil. Remove excess outer papery skin and pour a generous 2 tbsp olive oil over top. Crumple up tinfoil around it and place the packet on some coals near the eggplant. After a couple of minutes you will probably hear a popping sound from the eggplant. The water in the eggplant has increased its pressure inside the eggplant and has just blown a hole through the skin. This is a sign that things are cooking, but do make sure your not too close when it goes off just in case. Let the eggplant and garlic cook for 30-40 minutes as needed. The eggplant will become incredibly soft and collapse on itself. With tongs (you always pack your tongs when you go camping, right?) very carefully pull the eggplant off the coals and onto a plate. Remove the garlic packet as well. Carefully scoop out the flesh of the eggplant into another pan the same diameter as the stockpot. Try not to get too much burnt eggplant skin in during the transfer. Some is bound to get in, but do pick out the large pieces. Squeeze the garlic cloves into the pan as well. Mash everything with a fork and stir to combine. Add remaining olive oil and begin to heat on the grill over the coals. Cook to reduce some of the liquid from the eggplant. Add tomato ragout and stir. Add or remove coals if necessary, but try to maintain a simmer until pasta is done cooking. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
When pasta is done, use tongs to remove noodles to a large bowl. Pour about a cup to a cup and a half of the pasta cooking water unto the sauce depending on how much the ragout has reduced. Add sauce to pasta and coat the noodles thoroughly. Plate up and serve with a fistful of fresh breadcrumbs or panko on top. Serves 5-6 hungry campers.