Pasta Alla Norma. The first time I heard mention of this dish was in Eldorado County which lies east of Sacramento. This beautiful area has rolling vineyards and big wines. Our friend and winemaker John Miller talked about his favorite Italian dish called “Pasta Alla Norma”. I’m from the northern part of Italy and wasn’t familiar with this particular recipe. I honestly thought he made it up. Then when he talked about the eggplant, I didn’t give it a second thought.
Eggplant. I’m not a huge fan. It’s never been a go to at our table and it’s actually a fruit. Well, there you go. Another fruit turned veggie. Because they are not sweet as we associate fruit to be, eggplants are treated as vegetables and used in many culinary applications.
So back to my story about a pasta named Norma. On my most recent trip to Italy, I was finally able to head south to the beautiful island of Sicily. Guess what I ate? Yup! Pasta Alla Norma! OMG was it EVER DELICIOUS! Out of the 10 days during our trip, I probably ate Pasta Alla Norma 8 days. I never wavered or got tired of my new friend the pudgy fruit/veggie called Eggplant. Now the shiny, purply, pear shaped eggplant is a staple at our house. I did my research and found a recipe from an Epicurious Italy magazine I had from my collection of cookbooks and tweaked the recipe ever so slightly. It’s now one of our favorite meals. I hope you enjoy it too!
Next time I see our friend John Miller, I will be so happy to tell him how much I enjoy his favorite Italian dish and I would be so honored to make it for him one day!
PASTA ALLA NORMA
A beautiful simple pasta highlighting eggplant, basil and tomato.
- 1 or 2 large (1 1/2-lb) firm eggplants, tops trimmed. (1 eggplant for us is plenty)
- 9 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled, thinly sliced lengthwise
- 1 small red onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 28-oz can tomato puree
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 lb rigatoni pasta or spaghetti (my favorite is rigatoni)
- 1 cup torn basil leaves
- grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese (I use Parmesan)
- Preheat oven to 475 degrees
- Line baking sheet with parchment paper
- Cut each eggplant lengthwise into eights, then cut fluffy cores from wedges, leaving 1/2″ – thick shells. Cut shells crosswise into 3/4″ – thick strips. Toss with 6 Tbsp olive oil and 1 tsp salt in a bowl. Roast in oven, stirring eggplant halfway through until tender and browned, approximately 20-25 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cook garlic in remaining 3 Tbsp oil in heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring until pale golden, then transfer garlic with a slotted spoon to a small bowl. (watch closely, so garlic will not turn from pale golden to overcook in seconds) Stir onion, red pepper flakes, and 1/2 tsp salt into skillet,: cook, covered over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender, about 6 minutes. Add tomato puree and sugar: briskly simmer, uncovered, until thickened slightly, 10-15 minutes.
- Stir pasta into a 6-8 quart pot of boiling salted water and boil, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta cooking liquid and drain pasta in a colander. Return pasta to pasta pot with sauce and eggplant; toss over low heat, thinning with cooking liquid as necessary, until well coated, about 1 minute. Stir in garlic and half of basil. Transfer pasta to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with remaining basil and top with cheese.