Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Pasta alla Norma

By: The Food Hunter


Sicilian dishes rely on three things: the fertile volcanic soil from the landmark Mount Etna, the surrounding bodies of sea water and the influence of the many cultures that have conquered the region over time.

If you’re wondering which dishes you should eat for a true taste of the local cuisine I would suggest: Eggplant Timballo, Sicilian Pizza, Limoncello Zabaglione, Caponata, Arancini (deep fried rice balls), Tuna Carpacio and of course, Pasta alla Norma.

Although pasta is popular throughout Italy, it’s Sicily that features it with eggplant in the classic Pasta alla Norma; one of the region’s most well-known vegetarian pasta dishes. Originating in the town of Catania, it is rumored that the name of the dish derived from Vincenzo Bellini’s well-loved opera ‘Norma’. Pasta alla Norma  is typically served with short hollow pasta, which allows the silky sauce, loaded with aubergine, to cling beautifully.

Although every family across Italy has their on version of this classic Sicilian dish, the basic ingredients are the same: Sicily’s ever-popular aubergine, fresh basil and salty ricotta salata.

Debates on whose recipe is better stem over: how to cut and cook the eggplant, to whether adding crushed chili is appropriate (I say yes). In this version the eggplant is diced and sautéd with onions to bring out the delicate flavors of both.

After being tossed with sauce and fresh basil, the dish is finished off with shavings of ricotta salata…a hard, dry type of ricotta cheese.

Pasta alla Norma

  • 2 medium eggplants cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 2 Tbsp coarse salt plus additional for cooking pasta
  • 5 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup chopped red onion
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • peperoncini flakes
  • 2 14½- oz cans whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • 1 lb pasta
  • 1 cup torn fresh basil leaves
  • shaved ricotta salata
    1. Place eggplant cubes in colander and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Let eggplant drain 15 minutes. Pat dry, removing excess salt.

    2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add peperoncini and tomatoes with juice; cook until tomatoes begin to soften, about 15 minutes. Remove tomato sauce from heat.

    3. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in another heavy large skillet over high heat. Working in 3 batches and adding 1 tablespoon olive oil for each batch, cook eggplant until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer eggplant to tomato sauce in skillet.

    4. Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking water. Add cooking water to sauce; bring to boil. Add pasta and basil to sauce and toss to coat.

    5. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer pasta to bowl; top with ricotta salata and serve.

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