FOOD: Sicilian style – Pasta alla Norma | Food
Alla Norma is nothing normal, a Sicilian way of serving pasta topped with an eggplant and tomato sauce. If you like eggplant parmesan, ratatouille, Iman Bayildi, or a number of eggplant and tomato dishes, you probably understand that eggplant and tomato are a special combination. They are close relatives, taxonomically, sharing not only the same family but the same genus, which means that they are as close as possible to the same species without being able to have babies.
The family resemblance between eggplant and tomato is not obvious. The tomatoes are red, tangy, and juicy, while the eggplant is plump, blue in hue, and spongy on the inside. The plants that produce them may not be able to cross, but the fruits enjoy the mixing and mixing that occurs in the pot.
Pasta alla Norma is named after an opera by Sicilian composer Vincenzo Bellini, and baptized by poet Nino Martoglio, also from Sicily, who tried a bite of this dish and declared it to be the “Norma” of pasta, declaring thus both Sicilian produced to be greats of all time in one triumphant sentence.
Martoglio passed away 101 years ago, but the tradition of the pasta dish he named lives on. Chef Philip Guardione of the famous Piccola Cucina at Red Lodge Montana fondly remembers his grandmother’s version of the dish and all the day before it. “Pasta alla Norma was the binder of our family on Sundays. I have many related childhood memories, like when my grandmother was in the kitchen and the smell of her tomato sauce and eggplants greeted you as soon as you opened the front door ”, m ‘he said.
Today, at Piccola Cucina, Guardione serves the alla Norma sauce with homemade maccheroni pasta, long and folded with a hand-cut look. He was generous enough to share, is as brilliant a representation of the glory of tomatoes and eggplants as you will find him. Up there, in the same thin air as Armando’s eggplant parmesan sub that made up most of my calories growing up, but on homemade noodles instead of Italian rolls. It didn’t hurt that the soprano chosen by Bellini was called Guiditta Pasta.
Pasta alla Norma (alla Chef Philip Guardione)
I have slightly modified Chef Guardione’s recipe for clarity. Below I have added some personal notes on pasta in general and on how to follow this recipe.
• 500 g (1 lb) cherry or grape tomatoes
• 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil for the stir-fry
• 2 garlic cloves, chopped
• Salt for water and for seasoning
• ½ liter (2 cups) extra virgin olive oil for frying
• 500 g (1 lb) eggplant
• 10 fresh basil leaves
• 200 g (7 oz) ricotta salata, grated
• Rinse and dry the tomatoes and cut them into pieces. In a large saucepan, pour two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and brown the garlic. Cook for two to three minutes.
• Add the tomatoes, mix and cover with a lid. Cook over low heat until the tomatoes are tender and have released their juice – about 20 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes.
• Transfer the tomatoes to a food mill or blender and puree.
• Return the tomato sauce to the saucepan, salt and simmer for 10-15 minutes until it thickens.
• Rinse and dry the eggplants, then cut them into ½ inch cubes. Mix the cubes in ½ teaspoon of salt.
• Heat extra virgin olive oil to around 340F – medium / high, if you can guess – fry the eggplant pieces until golden, about five minutes. Drain the eggplant.
• In a large saucepan, bring salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta al dente.
• Add the eggplant to the sauce. Simmer for five minutes. Add the pasta and basil leaves to the sauce. Mix well.
• Arrange the pasta and garnish with plenty of ricotta salata cheese
Pasta: If they are not homemade, they must be 100% semolina. In addition, the packaging must state that the pasta it contains has been cold air dried. I like the pieces with nooks and crannies to hold the eggplant pieces.
Immediately after cooking the pasta, toss it in olive oil and freshly squeezed or minced garlic (not that crap out of a jar). Add these seasoned noodles to the sauce. (I do this step for each pasta dish I make.)
When frying eggplant like this, I was surprised at how little oil it absorbed – less than half a cup!
I added a cup of pasta water to the sauce to dilute it so much that my blender has enough to work. I then cooked the excess water.