Pasta with Eggplant, Tomatoes and Ricotta: Pasta alla Norma

Pasta alla NormaPasta alla Norma is a famous pasta dish from the city of Catania in Sicily. This dish uses eggplant which is wildly abundant in Sicily’s gardens in the summer. Americans have not had the best experience with eggplant.  Eggplant when badly cooked is really terrible but a little attention and it shines as one of summer’s greatest vegetables.

This recipe makes 4 servings.

Ingredients and Directions:

  • 2 medium or 1 large eggplant
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped into 1/4-inch dice
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 28-ounce can Italian tomatoes (preferably San Marzano tomatoes)
  • 4 sprigs of basil
  • Sprigs of fresh thyme (if available)
  • 1 pound ragatoni or other tubular pasta
  • 1/2 pound ricotta salata, coarsely grated
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Trim the ends off the eggplant and slice the eggplant lengthwise to a thickness of about 1/2-inch. Place a colander in the sink and layer the eggplant into it, sprinkling each piece with salt. Let stand for about 30 minutes.

Rinse each piece of eggplant under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Stack the lengthwise slices on a cutting board and cut into a 1/2-inch dice.

In a large saute pan over medium-high heat, add about 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Heat till the oil is just smoking and add the red onions and garlic. Saute for about 5 minutes. When the onion begins to soften, add the diced eggplant.

Saute for about 10 minutes until the eggplant is soft and begins to brown. You may need to add more oil olive.

The trick about eggplant is to cook over high heat and the olive oil will be rapidly absorbed by the eggplant. As the eggplant cooks, it will release the olive oil back into the pan. So you want to add just enough olive oil to allow the eggplant to brown but not burn and stick to the pan. Add too much olive oil and you’ll be deep frying the eggplant. Finding the right balance takes practice.

Once the eggplant is softened, hand crush the tomatoes into the pan and then add the thyme. Stir and cook over a simmer for about 15 minutes. The sauce should not be to soupy but add a little water if the sauce becomes to stiff (dry). As you approach completion, taste the sauce and adjust by adding salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water with a generous amount of salt to a boil. Add the pasta and cook to 30 seconds short of the package directions. Drain the pasta and add to the saute pan. With a wooden spoon gently blend the pasta and the sauce over a simmer heat.

Serve in bowls and top with the grated Ricotta Salata and top with a sprig of basil.

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