Pasta alla Norma under olives trees in Sicily
Economical, delicious, Pasta alla Norma is a Sicilian classic. It was especially atmospheric to make this dish in its homeland in our shack up in the north-west corner of the island by Scopello; salting, washing and drying beautifully bitter Sicilian eggplants and working them into slick sauce with local tomatoes, olive oil and basil of unparalleled pungency. We served up outside on plastic furniture, beneath olive trees and clothesline with a bottle of Nero D'Avola and few wasps hangingabout. We'll never cook a Norma like it till we're back on the island, without the Sicilian sun and soil the eggplants are bland, tomatoes unripe and basil's scent hard to catch. Though I hope that won't deter you from following what's below. I still try, to varying sucess
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 eggplants
- 400g tomatoes (skinned via boiling water, or left on if you don't mind the texture) or tinned chopped tomatos, plus tomato paste
- large handful of basil
- salted ricotta (find at any respectable Mediterranean supermarket)
- 400 g pasta (more if you're hungrier, this is following the Italian 100 g per person measurement), I love curly-edged Sicilian Margherita, but use anything interestingly ridged to catch the sauce. If you must, use penne.
- Slice eggplant into fat matchsticks, salt, leave for half an hour, rinse and pat dry.
- Fry in olive oil in batches until golden (or if feeling more low key, bake, oiled, in the oven at 180°C for half an hour).
- Remove eggplant from pan. Fry garlic over low heat until cooked.
- Add in eggplant, tomatoes (whichever kind) and a tablespoon or so of tomato paste, cook until a thick sauce forms, adding sugar to assuage any unwanted acidity.
- Bring pasta water to the boil, cook pasta, reserving a little of the starchy water for the sauce.
- Tear basil leaves into sauce season with salt and pepper.
- Mix in drained pasta into sauce with a little pasta water; you should have an unctuous coating.
- Serve with a generous grating of salted ricotta.