Pasta alla Norma is a classic pasta originating from the Sicilian city of Catania. A recipe simple in ingredients, eggplants, tomatoes, basil, garlic and Ricotta Salata, but so tasty and rich in history. The eggplants are deep fried, then tossed into a fresh tomato sauce along with the pasta and cheese. Here the recipe and legend of Pasta alla Norma!
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PASTA ALLA NORMA HISTORY AND LEGEND
The Pasta alla Norma has been invented in the Sicilian city of Catania, probably in the XIX Century. The name of this simple and delicious recipe is a tribute to the opera “Norma” by Vincenzo Bellini.
The legend tells that the playwright Nino Martoglio, tasting a dish of this pasta, exclaimed: Chista è ‘na vera Norma! (this is a true Norma!) referring to the Bellini’s opera.
Another legend gives us the date of birth of Pasta alla Norma: 26 of December 1831. That was the world premiere night of the opera, and the Pasta alla Norma was created for that occasion and served to the invited.
FRESH OR CANNED TOMATOES?
The tomato sauce is critical to prepare this recipe to perfection. During the tomato season, fresh tomatoes are the best option. But, the Sicilian can’t wait the summer to eat the Pasta alla Norma, so a good quality canned tomato pulp is more than a decent alternative!
CUTTING THE EGGPLANTS
The eggplants cuts are a personal choice. Traditionally, the eggplants are reduced into very thin rounds, but several chefs prefer to cut the vegetables into dices or sticks. Personally, I prefer mixing the two techniques, slicing into rounds the first tiny part of the eggplant, and dicing the rest of the vegetable. In this way, I will have different tastes into the plate, crispy rounds and smooth bites.
For a Sicilian there are no questions: you want your eggplants fried into extra-virgin olive oil! Unfortunately not in all the countries olive oil is as convenient as in Italy: somewhere is very expensive. So, frying with good sesame oil is a good option, and honestly, the taste doesn’t change so much.
CHOOSING THE PASTA
The tradition wants short pasta! You either can use penne or caserecce or ziti depending on your taste. Today, I prefer caserecce: because their shape, they catch the sauce optimally: delicious!
RICOTTA SALATA AND OTHER CHEESE
If the eggplant is the king of this recipe, Ricotta Salata is definitely his Queen! This cheese with a characteristic salty flavor and firm texture is typical in the city of Catania and often used grated on Sicilian pasta dishes. Alternatively, use Pecorino or Caciocavallo.
PASTA ALLA NORMA RECIPE
- 14 oz ( 400g) short pasta
- 1 big eggplant
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 8 Roma tomatoes (alternatively 1 Lb tomato pulp)
- 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pint ( 500 ml) sesame oil (or extra-virgin olive oil)
- 8 fresh basil leaves
- 4 tbsp Ricotta Salata (alternatively, Pecorino)
- 4.5 tbsp coarse salt
- to taste table salt
- TOMATO SAUCE
First, peel and crush the garlic. Then, pour the garlic in a saucepan along with 2 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil, and saute until lightly golden.
If you prefer to use fresh tomatoes (this is my choice in season), chop and add them into the saucepan, otherwise use canned tomato pulp. Now, add 4 basil leaves and cook 15 minutes over medium heat. Eventually, mix the sauce with a blender and salt to taste.
- FRYING EGGPLANTS
While the tomatoes are cooking, cut 12 thin rounds from the smaller part of the eggplant, then reduce the other part into dices or sticks.
Now, heat the sesame oil (or extra-virgin olive oil) until reach 340° F (170° C), then fry the eggplant pieces and rounds, a few at a time, until golden. Rest the fried eggplant over paper towels to drain the oil in excess.
- PASTA ALLA NORMA
Cook the pasta into a 5 Qt pot filled with boiling water and 4.5 tbsp of coarse salt. Raise the pasta "al dente" and toss into the tomato sauce. Finally, add the eggplants, a generous sprinkle of Ricotta Salata, and 4 basil leaves. Serve immediately.
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