Monday, 15 April 2013

Pasta alla Norma

The recipes you'll find on this blog will never be the original versions or classic versions of the dishes their names after. Cooking in Italy is tricky because if you don't get it exactly right (and that's exactly how 'nonna' used to make it) then no matter how tasty the dish is your critiques will never let you heathen end of it. I've gotten past this by always modifying recipes to how they suit me best and not how they've been done traditionally.

Pasta alla Norma for example is a Sicilian dish traditionally prepared with fried eggplant but I find the whole coating the eggplant in salt in a colander phase and then frying really tedious. I also find that no matter how well you rinse eggplant prepared in this way the salt seems to really stick regardless. Salt is bad for you right?

Frying ditto. The first times I made this dish I didn't have frying oil in the house so fried in olive oil instead... Which works ok, but is a waste of money as olive oil loses a lot of its properties when heated. My kitchen also doesn't have a fan to suck out the air from cooking so I try to avoid frying wherever possible.

The solution is baking the eggplant while you're preparing the other ingredients and throwing everything together at the end as a sort of composition to be mixed on the plate. It's easy to prepare, tastes great, is a modern version of a dish most people enjoy anyway and is hands-down healthier.

Here's what you'll need:

2 eggplants/aubergines/melanzane
400g pasta
Ricotta Salata
500ml passata di pomodoro (tomato purée)
1 handful of fresh basil leaves
2 cloves of garlic
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt


Preheat oven to 210 degrees. Wash the aubergines well and cut off the tops. Cut in half, then in slices then in strips and arrange on a cookie sheet/oven tray which you have covered with oven paper (for easy cleanup... Who wants to waste time on that?). Drizzle olive oil on top, sprinkle with some salt (go easy! Most of the salt in this dish should come from the cheese!) and pop them in the over, for about 20min. Keep an eye on them though because you should be turning them frequently enough that they're cooking evenly and also not drying out. If they begin to look crispy add a bit more oil and turn down the heat! While they're cooking get your water boiling for the pasta. In a saucepan heat up a tablespoon of olive oil, throwing the garlic and let it become blond. Then pour in the tomato purée and adjust to your liking with salt and pepper. In the meantime use a large grater to grate your cheese and set aside. Towards the end of cooking throw in half of the basil and stir well. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions or until al-dente (the best way is to taste every few minutes). When your pasta and eggplants are ready prepare on the plate. Pasta, sauce, eggplants cheese and more sauce. Garnish with the remaining basil and enjoy!

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