Pasta con le Melanzane/Pasta a la Norma
Eggplant in tomato sauce must be a popular dish in Sicily. All three of my Sicilian cookbooks and even the “Lonely Planet, Sicily” guide book have a version of this recipe. Most of the recipes are quite similar. The biggest difference is that Lydecker in ”Seafood alla Siciliana” makes it into a fish dish with the addition of swordfish. This version is a combination of the recipes and cooking methods.
2 lb eggplant
2-4 garlic cloves, chopped or passed through a garlic press
2 lb tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 c tomato sauce – see below
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb spaghetti or penne
4-6 oz salted ricotta, grated
½ c fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
Making the Tomato Sauce
Some recipes use just tomato sauce and others use just tomatoes. I like the combination of the sauce with the extra chunks of tomato. Also, I had an abundance of tomatoes from the garden that needed to be used. While I used eating tomatoes, since that is what I had, sauce tomatoes or Romas would make a thicker sauce.
This sauce recipe is based on M T Simeti’s in “Sicilian Food”.
Wash and stem the tomatoes as the stems will make the sauce bitter. Simmer them for 5 minutes in just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Drain and cool slightly before pressing them through a medium disk in a food mill. Discard the seeds and skin.
Put the resulting purée in a sauce pan with the garlic, basil leaves, and oil. Simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes – more if you aren’t using Roma tomatoes – until creamy. Salt to taste.
Preparing the Eggplant
Slice the eggplant into ½ inch discs. Salt generously and let drain for 1 hour. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry. Dust with flour and fry in olive oil until soft and golden brown. This should be done in batches as to not crowd the eggplant. Here’s the dilemma. Olive oil is what makes eggplant supper creamy and yummy, but it also carries loads of calories. The eggplant will soak up just about everything you give it but if you want to save calories you can use less olive oil or none at all. I try for balance by using enough oil to cover the bottom of a non-stick pan, giving the eggplant the rich flavor of the oil without as many extra calories. The choice is yours.
Finishing the Sauce and Pasta
Sautee the tomatoes and garlic in olive oil over medium heat for about 5-10 minutes or until the tomatoes start to break down. Add about 2 cups of the prepared sauce and simmer 3-5 minutes to combine the flavors. Correct the salt and pepper. Meanwhile cook the pasta in a generous pot of salted boiling water.
Putting it all Together
Mix the drained pasta with ½ of the grated Ricotta cheese. Pour the sauce over the pasta and sprinkle with the basil. Next place the eggplant slices on top and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
Have you ever looked at a recipe and thought, “Oh this should come together fairly quickly” only to realize too late your error in judgment? This is one such recipe. It looks simple but is more time consuming than it appears. The results – despite the number of dirty dishes – are mighty tasty and worth the effort.