Pasta alla Norma

By Published On: April 29th, 2020Categories: Appetizers, Meals0 Comments

A few years back my husband and I had the huge pleasure of visiting our good friends, Joe and Francine D’Anna, at their home in Sicily. While we were visiting I discovered a fabulous dish I had never heard of and absolutely fell in love. The name of this dish has an interesting story. Supposedly it was created in the 1800’s by a chef from Catania and named after Vincenzo Bellini’s opera-Norma, considered to be one of his most beautiful and lyrical. Legend has it, writer Nino Martoglio, exclaimed after tasting Pasta Norma for the first time-That is a true Norma, referring to Bellini’s beloved opera. It makes a good story anyway!
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I served with large slices of grilled eggplant on the side.

This classic Sicilian dish contains only a few ingredients and as with many old, traditional favorites has some regional variations, but always contains: eggplant-either roasted or fried; tomato sauce; short pasta like ziti or rigatoni; fresh basil; Ricotta cheese-either Ricotta Salata (salted and dried and grated into the dish) and/or fresh Ricotta, spooned into the dish just before serving, and finally Grana Padano, which I could not get so used a nice Romano, which is similar. I decided to use Lidia Bastianich’s version, as she is one of my favorite Italian chefs.

Ingredients:
1 pound Ziti (I used Rigatoni.)
2 large firm eggplants, about 2 lbs. total
2 Tbsp. Kosher salt for salting the eggplant, plus more to taste
6 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 jars (25 oz. each) Lidia’s Chunky Eggplant Tomato Sauce (I did not have her sauce so used a jar of Classico Tomato Basil.)
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 cup grated Grana Padano (I used Romano.)
1 cup fresh basil, shredded
8 oz. (1 cup) fresh ricotta or packaged whole-milk ricotta

Preparation:
Trim the stems from the eggplants. Remove strips of peel about 1 inch wide from the eggplants, leaving about half the peel intact. (I peeled the whole eggplant.) Cut the eggplant into 1 inch cubes and toss in a large bowl with the 2 Tbsp. of Kosher salt. Dump in a colander, and let drain for about 1 hour. Rinse and drain thoroughly and pat dry.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush a rimmed baking sheet with 3 Tbsp. oil. Turn the eggplant cubes onto the baking sheet, toss to coat with oil and spread them in one layer. Bake until the eggplant is very tender and lightly browned, about 25 minutes. Turn and stir the eggplant gently once or twice during baking so they cook evenly.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat for the pasta. Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Scatter in the garlic and cook shaking the pan until golden, about 3 minutes. Pour in tomato sauce, add pepper flakes, season with salt. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Stir the pasta into the boiling water. Return to boil, stirring frequently. When it is al dente, about 8 minutes, drain the pasta and return it to the pot over low heat. (I like to leave a small amount, about 1/4 cup, of pasta water, which mixes nicely with the sauce.) Remove the pot from the heat, stir in 1/2 of the grated cheese and the basil. Add half of the roasted eggplant and toss to combine thoroughly.

Gently add the Ricotta in heaping teaspoonfuls. You want the Ricotta to warm, but not blend completely with the sauce.

Plate the pasta and spoon the reserved sauce over each serving; then divide remaining eggplant on top of each pasta plate. Sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese and serve.

In Sicily this dish would be served as an appetizer.

I thought a nice light dessert would follow this hearty pasta dish so made a Kiwi Sorbet. I had a few near overly-ripe kiwis, which I didn’t want to throw out. Of course, I thought I was the first to make Kiwi Sorbet, but a quick internet search told me otherwise. My version is a little different, but could not be any more simple.

KIWI SORBET

Ingredients:
6 ripe kiwi’s
1/4 cup simple syrup

I did not want a super sweet simple syrup since the ripe kiwi’s had a nice sweetness of their own so used a 1 to 1 ratio water to sugar. Melt the sugar in the water over low heat until dissolved. That is simple syrup.

Preparation:
Peel the kiwi’s either with a paring knife or cut in half and scoop out the fruit, which I think is easier. Blend the fruit with 1/4 cup simple syrup.

Chill the kiwi liquid for a few hours or overnight and then churn in an ice cream maker.

I only had 6 kiwi’s so this made a scant 1/2 quart of sorbet. You can double or triple if you like. Use a proportionate amount of simple syrup.

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