Pasta Alla Norma

Before I tell you about the dish pictured below, I’ll tell you a story about eggplant.

pasta alla norma2

Around ten years ago, Delly and I started a pretend club. The Eggplant Appreciation Society, born out of several emails where we discussed our love of eggplant, a much maligned vegetable. We formed a society of which she was the president and I was the secretary and I was called Misty. Don’t ask. Perhaps you had to be there. It amused us for months. Yes, months.

Once, we even managed to have a whole lunch made out of eggplant. I don’t really remember what we ate but one of the dishes was a soup involving pureed eggplant that had been roasted whole until it was silky and soft and then peeled and cooked up with stock and garlic. I recall it was delicious. No idea what else we cooked but we did stop short of an eggplant dessert.

Fast forward ten years and I still love eggplant. Adore it. Once or twice I’ve undercooked it and it’s been revolting and almost ruined my love of it. These days I make sure I cook it really well.

I learned from Jamie Oliver about Pasta Alla Norma. It’s from his book, Jamie’s Italy and so far stands out as my favourite and most often made recipe.

The real key to this dish, I think, is the time that goes  into cooking the chopped up eggplant really well. Get the oil really hot; brown the pieces until they’re golden or, if you’re like me, until they’re lovely and dark. I like my eggplant dark on the outside and silken on the inside.

fried eggplant

I have trouble not pigging out on these delicate pieces while I’m cooking the batches (it does take a few batches to get through it all. Here’s a tip, don’t do this at the height of summer. I nearly expired once doing just that.)

Then it’s really just a matter of cooking it up with tinned tomatoes, lots of basil and garlic and an optional chilli. You can read the recipe here.

Now, ever since I first cooked this recipe, I’ve been unable to find the cheese Jamie says is most often used in Sicily for this dish. Salted ricotta. I’ve asked all over the place. One guy at a Deli even moaned ‘bloody Jamie Oliver. He’s always sending people off to find impossible stuff.’ I thought that was  shortsighted on his part. This is the first ingredient I’ve ever struggled to find. So mostly I just crumble a mild feta over it.

Until that is, I managed to find Salted Ricotta at a different Deli and snapped it up. It’s lovely. It’s a soft cheese but hard enough to grate. It’s not as salty as ricotta. It’s a mildly salty flavour and it’s delicious. It goes perfectly over the sauce. And I felt more authentically Sicilian using it.

pasta alla norma

It should have a liberal sprinkling of torn basil leaves too, but I had forgotten to buy those that day. But it was still fantastic.

Bells

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rose Red
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 18:58:45

    sorry – still not an eggplant fan – I’ll eat it, but it wouldn’t be my first choice! Glad you found the salted ricotta though, it’s always cool to find elusive ingredients!

    Reply

  2. 2paw
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 18:58:56

    I have had an amuse bouche of eggplant lasagne and it was beautiful, I’m willing to try it if it will be nice!! I have had yucky eggplant that has made me wary. I love your salted ricotta, such dedication!!

    Reply

  3. drkknits
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 09:35:15

    i love well cooked eggplant with tomato, this looks devine. and that cheese, yummo. your eggplant society story was very amusing!

    Reply

  4. Delly
    Aug 27, 2010 @ 10:51:14

    Love this post! Ah those heading days of talking about Eggplant. I rememeber them well. I’ve made versions of this, especially after you made it for me. Glad to now have the actual recipe!!!

    Reply

  5. David Hilyard
    Aug 31, 2010 @ 13:13:56

    A few years ago I started growing eggplant and had great results. I love this dish too, and make it a lot in summer, but didn’t know the name. Possibly coined after listening to too much (!) Bellini …

    If you have an Italian green grocer handy, look for melanzane di sette – literally silk eggplant – at the height of the season. It has a finer texture – really silky – and the fruit is a paler purple colour, rather than the deep purple black of common melanzane. And it has a really smooth, silky texture.

    If you like eggplant dishes – and you do! – then Google “imam bayaldi”. A Middle Eastern dish usually consiting of just eggplant, garlic, and – ohh – say, your body weight of olive oil. A great antipasto dish!

    Misty – hmmm …

    Reply

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