A key ingredient in the recipe for a happy family is time spent around the dinner table. To help your family prioritize family meals, we’re regularly bringing you Better Family Dinners — a series of stories and recipes shared by chefs, cookbook authors, members of the community, and their families to help you have Better Family Dinners together.
In this installment, we talked to Chef Mychael Bonner of Saranello’s, Di Pescara and B Square Pizza about his family dinner routine, memories and traditions, and got his recipe for a delicious Rigatoni with Charred Eggplant, served at Saranello’s in Wheeling. This simple pasta is a perfect summer recipe to make with made with peak-season eggplant and ripe cherry tomatoes, available now at your local farmers market.
Better: What was your family dinner routine growing up?
Chef Mychael Bonner: Growing up, my family dinner routine was pretty normal. I am the youngest of six, so our meals during the week typically included simple and satisfying recipes, including Hamburger Helper, stews, beans, pork chops, etc. Our meals were prepared by my grandma and mom who were both professional chefs. My siblings and I would come home from school to our cooked meals and fight for the last bite. Sundays were special days. Our Sunday meals would be prepared with lots of time and care, unlike the hectic weekdays. After we attended church, we would come home to enjoy delicious meals including dressing, fried chicken, or turkey.
Do you have a fond memory that centers around food?
I have many fond memories surrounding food, especially when I was young. It was a great way to bring my big family together and spend time with siblings. My siblings and I would have a blast around the dinner table, even until it was time to fight for that last serving.
Do you have any traditions that you have carried on?
Definitely. I have kept up my grandma and mom’s traditions by giving a little extra love to cooking a special meal for my family on Sundays. I enjoy taking the time to cook a meal on Sunday to relax and serve others.
Recipe: How to Make Chef Bonner’s Rigatoni With Charred Eggplant
Chef Bonner’s Rigatoni with Charred Eggplant showcases two ingredients in season right now — cherry tomatoes and eggplant. The cherry tomatoes create a fresh sauce that perfectly complements charred eggplant and rigatoni cooked al dente. Hit up your local farmers market and get cooking!
• 1 large male eggplant (male eggplants have fewer seeds)
• 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
• 1 shallot thinly sliced
• 2 Tbsp. chopped basil
• 1 pt. cherry tomatoes
• 1 lb. bronzed die rigatoni
• 1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
• 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
• 1 Tbsp. honey
• 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
• kosher salt and fresh black pepper to taste
• extra red pepper flakes and parsley to garnish
METHOD FOR EGGPLANT
1. Heat the grill over high heat, place the eggplant onto the grill and cover the lid. Cook for 20 minutes turning about every five minutes until the eggplant is blackened on the outside and tender on the inside.
2. Let the eggplant cool, peel off the blackened skin and then rough chop the eggplant and reserve.
METHOD FOR TOMATOES
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2. Using a paring knife, cut a shallow x in the bottom of the tomatoes carefully, lower the tomatoes into the boiling water and remove after 30 seconds once the skins have started to crack.
3. Remove from water and place onto a shallow pan and allow to cool.
4. Once tomatoes are cool enough to handle peel skins from the tomatoes and reserve. Both the eggplant and the tomatoes can be prepared in advance.
METHOD TO ASSEMBLE PASTA DISH
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2. Meanwhile heat a large skillet over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
3. Add garlic, shallots and chilies and cook until slightly caramelized, about 2 minutes, add basil and cook for just a few minutes more.
4. Add reserved cherry tomatoes, reduce heat and cook until tomatoes have popped open, approx 5 minutes, stirring often and seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
5. Meanwhile add pasta to the boiling salted water and cook until desired texture (Chef suggests al dente).
6. Add the red wine vinegar and honey to the tomatoes and cook for 1 minute.
7. Stir in the eggplant and cook for 2 minutes more.
8. Add in 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water from the pot that the pasta is cooking in and add to the tomatoes and eggplant. Bring the sauce to a simmer.
9. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce. Stir well to coat.
10. Stir in 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil and 1/2 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano to taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
11. Plate pasta and garnish with Parmigiano-Reggiano and chopped parsley.
How to Help:
The Family Dinner Project is a nonprofit that champions family dinner as a way for families to connect through food, fun and conversation about things that matter. Based in Boston at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Psychiatry Academy, the Family Dinner Project team works with national and community organizations online and at community events to help families increase the frequency, meaning and long-term benefits of their shared meals. Learn more about their resources and partnership opportunities and donate to support their important work.