Simple to make, yet has a depth that is delightful as a first course for a dinner party. Pasta alla Norma was so popular in 19th century Sicily that it was named after Sicilian composer Bellini’s highly successful opera “Norma” to honor both the dish and the opera! Rumor has it that there was also a scandalous love affair involved! Well, I now have a love affair going with Pasta Norma … the concept is simple; pasta with sauteed eggplant in a tomato sauce, sprinkled with fresh basil and Ricotta Salata, a southern cousin of the traditional sweet soft ricotta. Ricotta Salata is a hard, salted cheese that gives the dish a rustic flavor. This cheese can be found at specialty stores, I purchased it at J. Pace & Sons in Boston’s North End. It is well worth the effort to locate this cheese. You can use the traditional Ricotta Cheese, but it changes the texture of the dish dramatically. For a Sicilian, this Ricotta Salata sets sets apart serious Pasta alla Norma from the mundane version.
Pasta alla Norma 1 Large Eggplant, ¾ Cup Coarsely Chopped Fresh Basil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO), 2 Leeks, 4 Cups Tomato Sauce*, 1 TBLSP Dried Oregano, 3 garlic cloves, ½ teasp dried Chili Flakes, Salt & Pepper to taste, ½ Cup shaved Ricotta Salata Cheese, 1 lb. tubular pasta.
*Let’s talk tomato sauce for a moment. For this dish I started with some fresh tomatoes I had in my fridge (about 3/4 of a pound). I cut them in half, placed them on a cookie sheet, and seasoned them with salt and pepper. I then poured about a 1/2 Cup of Aged Balsamic Vinegar on the tomatoes and roasted them in a 450 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until the balsamic carmalizes on the tomatoes. The combination of roasting in the balsamic syrup gives the tomatoes a smokey flavor that is scrumptious as a sauce. I added this mixture to a can of Muir Glen whole tomatoes and blended together.
Remove ends of eggplant, without peeling and cut no more than ½ inch think. Salt and drain in a colander for 1 to 2 hours. Pat eggplant dry and sauté in EVOO until golden, turning once. I use a medium robust Italian Olive Oil called, Leccino. Drain on paper towel. When cooled cut into strips and set aside.
Heat EVOO in a separate skillet and sauté the leeks (I use the package of trimmed leeks from Trader Joes) and garlic over medium heat. Do not burn. Add tomato sauce and ½ of the eggplant strips, salt pepper and most of the basil. Cook for about 15 minutes. Add cooked pasta and toss.
Plate the pasta mixture on individual pasta dishes, garnish with additional eggplant, basil and shaved Ricotta Salata. Yum! You will surely begin your own love affair with this seriously understated pasta dish. Thank you Norma!