There's lots of eggplant in season right now and here's the dish you want to make with it. This wonderful pasta dish is hugely popular in Sicily. It is named after Vincenzo Bellini's opera "Norma". Bellini was a Sicilian born in Catania, where my mother went to school. This dish is a delicious vegetarian dish, that uses a lot of the best ingredients of Sicily - eggplant, ricotta salata and basil. And it's a snap to make.
Most "Pasta alla Norma" recipes call for frying the eggplant, but I think roasting it is tastier and easier and doesn't take quite so much oil.
The traditional recipe calls for ricotta salata - a fantastic dry salted ricotta popular in Sicily that is very different from the usual grocery store ricotta. It is a firm cheese that you grate. You can find this item in better grocery stores and Italian delis or online. If you cannot find it at all, try substituting feta cheese but do try to find ricotta salata. It's worth it!
ricotta salata - a sheep's milk cheese popular in Sicily
Pasta Alla Norma
for a printable recipe, click here
Serves 2-3 as a main dish
Use San Marzano tomatoes if you can. If not, I like Muir Glen whole
tomatoes - they have a great taste
Preheat oven to 400° F. On a baking sheet, toss the eggplant cubes with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the dried oregano, sea salt and some freshly ground pepper. Roast for about 25 minutes.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for your pasta.
my favorite way of preparing garlic - grating
it on a coarse Microplane grater
Place 2 tablespoons of the olive oil into a large saucepan or skillet. Add the grated garlic and gently cook for about 1 minute. Add the chili flakes and the crushed tomatoes (I like to just crush them with my hands). Simmer for 5 minutes, uncovered. (Start boiling your spaghetti at this point. Don't overcook it.) Add the roasted eggplant to your tomato mixture and simmer for 5 minutes, covered.
Remove the spaghetti from the pot and put it right in the eggplant tomato mixture. Toss well. Add torn fresh basil leaves and some grated ricotta salata. Turn out onto a serving platter and grate some more ricotta salata on top and tear some more basil leaves for the top.