Grilled eggplant pasta and New Belgium's Clutch are, well, clutch

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I needed a reason to get out of the house the other day, so I decided to drive to Boulder to check out the farmers' market. I knew that I might be wasting my time in leaving so late since the good stuff gets bought up fairly quickly. But it was a nice day for a drive and a stroll, and in my experience, the Boulder Farmers Market always has something worthwhile.

Come to find out, I was mistaken in thinking the produce would be picked through; the market was bountiful as ever, the tables piled high with plenty of options to choose from. Nothing stood out quite like the eggplants from Isabelle Farms, however. They were beautiful, deeply purple and weighty. Perfect for grilling.

My girlfriend wasn't in the best mood that day. But if there's a surefire way to cheer her up -- and I'm not entirely sure there is -- it's pasta. So I grabbed some sweet-potato fettuccine from the Pappardelle's booth, thinking I'd make a simple pasta dish to go alongside the grilled eggplant.

Another great thing about the Boulder market is its proximity to Liquor Mart. It's one of my favorite beer spots in the state, and I always stop there when I have the opportunity. While perusing the extensive selection with no particular beer in mind, I happened upon a bottle of Clutch, a dark sour ale from New Belgium Brewing's specialty Lips of Faith Series. Say what you will about the massive, not-so-hands-on brewery and its arguably sub-par flagship amber ale, but the Lips of Faith lineup is generally stellar. I haven't had a beer from it that I didn't like, and since it's been a while since I puckered up to a sour, I went for the Clutch.

The meal turned out to be wonderful, especially the grilled eggplant. It was sweet, charred and crispy on the outside, and light and fluffy on the inside. Strange as it sounds, it reminded me of a freshly baked doughnut (hmm, maybe I'll try and make eggplant doughnuts tonight. Why not?). I threw together a simple tomato cream sauce for the sweet-potato pasta, both of which married well with the grilled eggplant.

The beer wasn't what I expected. Specifically, it wasn't very sour. But that didn't bother me. It was perfectly balanced, with sweet chocolate and bitter coffee notes, and as it warmed up, its subtle sourness pleasantly presented itself.

My girlfriend absolutely loved the dish, and I'd like to think it put me back in her good graces. She had just returned from a very successful shopping trip -- which, like cooking does for me, always puts her in a good mood.

Here's the recipe:

1 large eggplant, sliced into half-inch pieces 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar 1/2 pound pasta 2 cloves garlic, minced 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream 4 small tomatoes, diced (or 1 can of diced tomatoes) 1 teaspoon fresh oregano, finely chopped olive oil kosher salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat grill. 2. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil. 3. In a large saute pan, heat up some olive oil, add garlic and pepper flakes and cook until garlic is toasted. 4. Add cream, diced tomatoes and oregano and reduce heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally. 5. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together about 3/4 cup olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. 6. Toss eggplant in oil and vinegar mixture until each piece is thoroughly coated. 7. Add pasta to boiling water and cook until al dente. 8. Grill eggplant for about 15 minutes, flipping once. 9. Toss pasta in the tomato cream sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. 10. Pile unto a plate and serve with eggplant.

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