Pasta alla Norma
This may be eggplant’s last hurrah for me. The evening I ate this delectable pasta I broke out in an itchy rash all over my body, no fun. It is insane the weird changes your body goes through after having a baby, things you wouldn’t even consider, like developing allergies and a sweet tooth? I can handle an itchy rash and will probably throw caution to the wind when we are in Italy in September, introducing our daughter to her Italian family, I certainly couldn’t turn my mother-in-law’s parmigiana di melanzane down.
Pasta alla Norma may be Sicily’s most famous pasta dish, I had it for the first time on the Upper West Side in New York while visiting colleges in the area with my father in high school. I thought it was the most delicious thing I’d ever eaten, sweet fried eggplant in a velvety tomato sauce sprinkled with ricotta salata and basil, ah heaven. It is one of my best food memories complemented with the excitement of possibly going to college in New York.
I have had pasta alla Norma many times after that memorable meal, and it has always left me licking my chops.
Pasta alla Norma
- 1/2 pound of short pasta like casareccie or penne rigate
- 1 28 oz can of tomato sauce or purée
- a 1 pound eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 1 cup of grated ricotta salata
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 5 or 6 basil leaves
- 1/2 cup of olive oil
- oil for frying the eggplant
- salt and pepper to taste
Add olive oil, sliced onion and tomato sauce to a small pot, bring to a simmer over low heat and allow to cook, stirring occasionally, until it has reduced to about 1/3 of its volume. Set aside when it has finished cooking.
Cut the eggplant into 1/2 inch pieces. Place the eggplant in a colander and toss with salt. Place a weight on top. A plate with a couple of cans on it works well. Let the eggplant drain in the sink or over a bowl or tray for about an hour.
When ready to fry, heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet, over medium heat, until the oil is hot enough to make a piece of the eggplant sizzle rapidly as soon as it hits it. While the oil is heating, quickly rinse the eggplant under running water then thoroughly pat dry. Fry the eggplant in batches, until golden. With a slotted spoon or skimmer, transfer the fried eggplant to paper towels to drain.
Fill a large pot with water for the pasta. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once the water starts to boil for the pasta add a small handful of salt to the water and bring to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. When the pasta is perfectly al dente drain the pasta. Spoon some of the sauce into a bowl and add the pasta, the eggplant and about half of the ricotta salata, toss it all together adding more tomato sauce as you stir.
Serve immediately with a few basil leaves and the rest of the grated ricotta salata.