Aubergine, eggplant… however they’re named, I just love them. Unfortunately, Paulo “not so much” so we hardly ever used them in our cooking. I knew I had to find a compromise and this is it! It’s a dish for those who don’t like aubergine, but I’m convinced it will convert all aubergine-haters. Once they’re fried, they have a meaty texture and any bitterness is eliminated.
This recipe is basically what’s known in Sicily as Pasta alla Norma. It’s a famous dish named after the opera Norma by Vincenzo Bellini. Its flavours are definitely a work of art! The pasta shapes vary but I prefer a sturdy pasta, such as tortiglioni or rigatoni, to take on a sauce this thick and chunky.
The Sicilian way is to top the pasta with ricotta salata (salted ricotta) but it can be tricky to find. It’s a saltier, aged version of soft ricotta. Good substitutes are salty cheeses such as feta or Pecorino.
My version of Pasta alla Norma is quick and easy but still delicious. One day I will travel to Sicily and experience the traditional recipe!
1 small aubergine, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
A pinch of dried crushed chillies
400g tin chopped tomatoes
A handful of fresh basil, torn
Pecorino, grated (or feta or ricotta salata, crumbled)
Boil water for the tortiglioni in a large pot. While waiting for the water to boil, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large non-stick skillet.
Add the diced aubergine and fry over high heat until it softens and becomes tender. Transfer to a plate. You can add some salt to help reduce any olive oil the aubergine has soaked up like a sponge.
Add more olive oil to the skillet and fry the garlic. Add the tin of chopped tomatoes and season with dried crushed chillies. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
The water for the pasta should be at a rolling boil by now (at the same time the sauce starts simmering). Add 250g tortiglioni and cook as per package directions, but aim for the shorter cooking time so the pasta is al dente.
Once the tomato sauce has thickened, stir in the basil and aubergine and heat through for about 2 or 3 minutes.
Drain the pasta once it is cooked al dente. Add the tortiglioni to the sauce in the skillet. Toss until the chunky sauce is mixed with the tortiglioni. Spoon onto plates and grate some Pecorino or crumble a little bit of feta or ricotta salata over each serving. Tear more basil leaves into the plate for additional colour and flavour.
Serve immediately. Makes 2 servings. Buon appetito!
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