pasta alla norma

4    |   
Prep Time:
15 minutes    |   
Cook Time:
25 minutes

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pasta alla norma

I took my own advice this weekend (for once). Just as I suggested you do last week, I made one of the eggplant recipes from Mark Bittman. I chose Pasta alla Norma, a Sicilian classic that I’ve always wanted to try at home. When I saw a fat, pale-purple Chinese eggplant at the farmers’ market on Sunday, I knew the moment was right. You’d think the moment would be right with an Italian eggplant (and you’d be right), but the plumpness of this particular specimen and the ease of frying 3-inch diameter slices versus 6-inch diameter slices appealed to me. You see, frying the eggplant in lots of oil is the key to this dish and smaller slices fit better in one pan (you can cube an Italian eggplant if that’s what you’re using). This is just one of the ways I changed the standard recipe to make my it my own — I also pureed super-sweet cherry tomatoes for the quick sauce, I used basil instead of oregano, and I used a tangy fresh cheese instead of ricotta salata (try fresh ricotta or goat cheese). Sam declared it the best pasta I’ve ever made. Hyperbole? Probably, but take my advice… get an eggplant and try it.


kosher salt
1 lb Chinese eggplant or 1 medium Italian eggplant
extra virgin olive oil
1-1/2 pounds ripe cherry tomatoes, stemmed
1 clove garlic
red pepper flakes
12 oz shaped pasta, such as campanelle, penne, or ziti*
10 basil leaves, cut into chiffonade**
4 oz ricotta salata, fresh whole-milk ricotta, or goat cheese


Bring big pot of salted water to boil. Slice the eggplant 1-inch thick (if using Italian, cut into 1-inch cubes). Sprinkle slices with salt. Heat 1/3 cup olive oil in a wide saute pan over medium high heat. Add eggplant and cook until golden brown on one side; if eggplant soaks up too much oil, add more to pan. Flip slices and cook on the other side, then turn them back and forth a few times to evenly brown all over, about 7 minutes total (the eggplant will soak up a lot of oil at first, then give some back to the pan).

While eggplant is cooking, puree the tomatoes in a high-speed blender (such as a Vitamix) or in a food processor. Using a garlic press, squeeze the garlic into the tomato mixture then add a good pinch of red pepper flakes and another of kosher salt; pulse once or twice to blend.

Remove cooked eggplant to a plate; reserve oil in pan (if pab is dry, add 2 tablespoons of oil). Drop pasta into boiling water in pot. Set your timer for the pasta cooking time on the package.

Pour tomato puree into oil in pan (careful, it will sputter). Bring to a boil and let bubble over medium-high heat, stirring often, while pasta is cooking. Two minutes before pasta is done, add eggplant to tomatoes (cut any big slices of eggplant into smaller pieces).

When pasta is done (taste to be sure), drain it then add to the tomatoes and eggplant. Fold pasta and sauce together with a large spoon. Divide among plates, grate ricotta salata over each portion or if using fresh cheese, scatter small blobs of it over each serving. Sprinkle with basil and serve.

* I use 3/4 of a box of pasta to get the right sauce-to-pasta ratio. If it bugs you to leave that pasta behind, use it all.

**chiffonade means stacked, rolled and cut crosswise into shreds.