One thing I look forward to every week is making lunch for my mom at our house. I think she loves it too! 😉 She’s a pretty busy lady, so in the short time we have together I make sure to prepare a lovely 3 course meal – starter, main and dessert. This way, I know she’ll leave with a full and happy belly. Oh and I always send her off with a hot cappuccino to-go. I literally buy those disposable coffee cups with lids from Costco, just for her cappuccinos.
Two weeks ago, I made my mom a fresh zucchini salad, pasta all norma (eggplant spaghetti) and fruit salad of peaches, nectarines and plums. (All made from seasonal produce from the farmers market.) She liked the zucchini salad so much I made it again when the whole family was over for lunch. Although the eggplant spaghetti was tasty and looked pretty, I wasn’t completely satisfied with it. I was short on time and skipped 2 important steps in the recipe and well, while the eggplant should’ve broken apart and become creamy in texture, it remained intact and was quite watery. She didn’t seem to mind, but I told myself I’d have to make it properly for her the next time.
Pasta alla Norma is a Southern Italian classic, from Catania in Sicily. The sauce is made with eggplant, tomatoes, basil and ricotta salata cheese. Kevin isn’t a big fan of eggplant, unless of course it’s battered and deep-fried then covered in a sticky sweet sauce a la Grace Garden. But when I served him this dish, he cleaned his plate.
You can use tomato passata for the sauce, but since I had these really juicy tomatoes I picked up from the Down to Earth Farm stall at the Old Ellicott City Farmers Market, I decided to use fresh peeled tomatoes instead. The eggplants are also from Down to Earth and you can find ricotta salata in the cheese section at Whole Foods or Wegman’s. By the way, are you guys excited for the new Whole Foods to open in Columbia, MD? I am! 😀 Here is how you make Pasta alla Norma for 3 people, or 2 very hungry people.
300g spaghetti or rigatoni
4 tomatoes, peeled
12 basil leaves
2 garlic cloves
4 anchovy fillets
ricotta salata, grated
Slice the eggplant into 1/4-inch thick rounds. In a colander, layer the eggplants with coarse sea salt. This procedure helps draw out the water and bitterness in the eggplant. Leave to rest for about an hour. Remember to place a plate or bowl under the colander to collect the liquid. (The first step I omitted the last time.)
I peeled the tomatoes and diced them up right in the bowl, to keep all the juices. The classic way to peel a tomato is to blanch it in boiling water and shock them in an ice bath. I just peeled them with my hands and I kept the seeds. Living on the edge! HAHA.
After an hour, rinse the salted eggplants and pat dry. Prepare a pan with a shallow amount of olive oil for frying. Fry the sliced eggplants in batches for 2-3 minutes. They should shrivel up a bit around the edges and color slightly. Take out and drain oil on paper towels. (The second step I omitted the last time.) Heat a large pot of water and add a good pinch of salt.
Meanwhile, we prepare the tomato sauce. Heat a large pan and add olive oil. Add in 2 roughly chopped garlic cloves and 4 anchovy fillets. The anchovy fillets are optional and aren’t required in the original recipe, but I like to use them in a lot of my pastas. I love the saltiness the anchovies add to the sauce. I also add in a pinch of chili flakes which is optional as well. Tear half the basil leaves into pieces and add them into the sauce. Stir together and continue cooking. Your pot of salted water should be boiling by now, add in your pasta (this recipe goes great with spaghetti or rigatoni). Follow package instructions.
When you’ve finished frying the eggplant slices, add all but 5 slices per portion (for us 3, I set aside 15 slices). Stir together and cook.
With the leftover eggplants, fry them one more time for an additional minute or two so they get slightly crispy and more color. Drain oil on paper towels.
Your pasta should be al dente. Drain pasta, reserving a bit of the cooking liquid or drain pasta with a slotted spoon and put straight into the sauce.
Toss pasta in the sauce. Add in some cooking liquid as needed. If you drained the pasta with a slotted spoon and transferred the pasta directly into the pan, you shouldn’t need to add any cooking liquid. Do you see how the eggplant is broken up and creamy. Now that’s Pasta alla Norma.
Time to plate. If you want the dish to look fancy pants, do what I do. With the remaining basil, roll it up like you’re rolling a cigar and slice them thinly. Grate some ricotta salata and set aside. Plate the pasta then top with 5 slices of eggplant, a generous amount ricotta salata, and sprinkle over the thinly sliced basil.
TA DA! You are now ready to eat the best eggplant pasta ever!
Give this recipe a try and let me know how it goes in the comment section below. Visit me on facebook and twitter and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog. Happy Eating!