We recently visited Sicily for the first time and I was happy to find a dish I had never heard of before, Pasta alla Norma. I don’t think I would have ordered it except I saw it on every menu and got curious. I was pleasantly surprised to find this dish delicious whether with pasta or even with pizza. And in case you are wondering why I was eating pizza and pasta, the European gluten does not seem to affect me the same way as it does in the US; I might have to move!
Eggplants, which are prevalent in Sicily, are used in dishes like caponata and pasta. Pasta alla Norma is a dish you can find almost any where there but was originated from Catania, a city on the eastern coast of the island. Nino Martoglio, an Italian writer and poet, was so enthusiastic with this dish that he compared it with the awe of the opera Norma, written by catanese composer Vincenzo Bellini. If you like eggplant parmesan, you might say the same thing.
The recipes I found have three basic elements:
1) Saute or roast eggplant until soft and sweet
2) Cook the tomato sauce, then add the eggplant
3) Add the sauce and cheese to the pasta.
If you don’t wish to make the sauce from scratch, use your favorite pre-made variety. It’s the combination of the flavors that really make the difference. I would also suggest making a double batch of the sauce and using half for this dish and half for later.
For a gluten-free version, just switch your pasta to gluten-free.
You can also make Pizza alla Norma by adding fried eggplant to your pizza along with some extra sharp cheese.
So, either way, make a batch, open a robust red wine, sit back and enjoy.
Pasta alla Norma
2 eggplants, peeled and cubed
2-4 Tbl olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large can diced tomatoes in juice
1 Tbl tomato paste
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp sugar
2 Tbl chopped basil leaves
12 oz pasta like penne or fusuli
Grated hard ricotta salada cheese (not ricotta) or parmesan or peccorino cheese
1. Fry eggplant in a saute pan in 1 Tbl olive oil until brown on each side. Do this in two batches. Alternatively, roast eggplant in the oven. Place eggplant coated in olive oil on a baking sheet in the oven at 400ºF for about 20 minutes. Once cooked, put eggplant aside.
2. In a medium pot, add 1 Tbl oil. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add tomato, paste, salt, pepper, and sugar. Cook for 30 minutes, simmering, stirring occasionally. Add basil and eggplant at the very end. Cook 3 more minutes.
3. While the sauce is simmering, cook pasta according to directions. Always save 1/2 c pasta water in case the sauce is too thick to help loosen it up. You may only need 1-2 Tbl of water but it’s better to have more on hand.
4. Serve pasta with sauce and top with cheese. If sauce is very thick, see step 3.