Luis’ friend Veronica generously came over and prepared the Sicilian classic, Pasta alla Norma for us in our kitchen. She is from Catania, Sicily, and learned this dish by watching her mother cook it numerous times. My memories of Catania include the bustling fish market with fish heads and organs everywhere, and having to pay a guy 1 euro to “watch our car” which was just parking legally in the street. We didn’t really have much choice. We also ate lots of wonderful dishes with eggplant, swordfish, pine nuts and currants. I have since made Pasta alla Norma for myself, but I did pick up some useful tips by watching Veronica. The first thing I learned was I had been using not nearly enough oil…
Veronica started by browning the cubes of eggplant in a lot of vegetable oil (olive oil imparts too much flavor on the eggplant) and then placing the cooked pieces on paper towl while frying the rest of the eggplant.
For the tomato sauce, she warmed up some olive oil and dropped in a couple of whole garlic cloves. Then added one large can of whole cherry tomatoes. Let it all simmer gently, and take a wooden spoon to break up some of the tomatoes. Add about one teaspoon of sugar, and some salt and pepper. Let this simmer while the eggplant is cooking (fish out the garlic cloves before dressing the pasta).
Boil pasta in generously salted water until al dente (subtract 2 minutes off the cooking time printed on the box. When that time has arrived, taste pasta and taste every 30 seconds until al dente. In Italy you will still see a tiny bit of uncooked pasta in the core when you bite into it.)
Drain the pasta, put in back in the pot you boiled it in, stir in some tomato sauce, just enough to coat it, not swim in it. Stir in some of the cooked eggplant, shredded fresh basil and grated ricotta salata. Plate in pasta bowls, and top with more eggplant and cheese. In a pinch, parmesan or fresh mozzarella are good substitutes.
A strict recipe isn’t necessary for a pasta like this, but here are some amount guidelines if you ned them:
1 pound pasta
1 large eggplant or 2 medium
1 28oz can cherry tomatoes (or chopped Italian tomatoes)
approx. 3/4 cups grated ricotta salata
4-5 basil leaves
2-3 cloves garlic