Pasta alla Norma

 

Let’s deal with the inevitable question here. Who’s Norma? Turns out the name of this classic Sicilian dish comes from a music critic who, in the Nineteenth century, commented that “this food is a Norma!” – meaning it was a masterpiece just like the opera of the same name composed by Vincenzo Bellini. Who, by the way, is the same person whom the famous cocktail is named after. The recipe itself is rather easy to replicate even outside of Italy, since all the ingredient it uses are available in most quality supermarkets. Here how it is done:

Ingredients

400 g of spaghetti

2 of eggplants, average-sized

500 g of chunky tomato sauce

200 g of salted ricotta cheese

12 leaves of fresh basil

2 garlic cloves

4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

Black pepper

 

Preparation

Cut away the ends of the eggplants. Slice the rest across in 4mm-high “wheels”, except a few more oval slices you’ll use for decoration at the end. Place the slices in a colander spreading them with abundant coarse salt, then cover them with a plate and put something heavy over it – this will suck out the bitter liquid in the eggplants and purge it. The process will take about one hour. In the meantime put the oil in a pan over a strong fire, then add the peeled and squashed garlic cloves. You don’t want to fry the garlic, but to turn it golden. When it is ready, add the tomato sauce (you will need a basic, no-frills sauce: just plain tomatoes will do) and stir until you have a smooth texture. Keep cooking it on a gentle flame to reduce it, and when most of the water has evaporated kill the fire and drop half of your whole basil leaves in.

Back to the eggplants! Wash the now dried slices under cold running water to remove all the salt. Dry the slices by placing them between two dishtowels, warm up some more oil and proceed to fry the slices. Make sure to place the fried slices on dry absorbing paper as you take them out of the oil: you want them as dry as possible. Now cook your pasta, possibly following our traditional Italian tricks. While it cooks, grate the ricotta in not-too-fine curls: be sure to use the hard salted variety, not the soft one! This is also the time to slice the eggplants wheels – except the oval ones – into sticks. Warm a pan, put one third of the sauce into it, add the fried eggplants sticks. When the pasta is right drain it and drop into this pan: cook for one more minute to let all ingredients get into the spaghetti, then add the remaining sauce. Serve your pasta alla Norma decorated with the oval eggplant slices, a rain of ricotta and the remaining basil leaves on top of it all.