Back in 2011 our friends honeymooned in Italy and returned with a present for us: “The Cuisine of Italy.” We’re not sure why we deserved a souvenir from their honeymoon, but we weren’t about to complain. In fact, to thank them we had them over for dinner and made three of the pasta sauces in the book, a carbonara, an arrabiata, and the sauce below (it was laughably too much food, but again, we aren’t complaining).
Flash forward to a lazy Sunday in June. We were looking for a simple sauce recipe for a Sunday in-date and remembered how much we enjoyed the Pasta alla Norma sauce. The ingredient list is short and the recipe is deceptively simple. We tried it. It was delicious but not the quickest prep, so if you have a relaxing Sunday afternoon and a good glass of wine to sip while cooking, then definitely give this a shot.
Pasta alla Norma
(Serves 8, yup, we made waaaay too much… like we do)
1 28oz can of crushed or ground tomatoes
1 medium onion
4 cloves of garlic
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp olive oil (plus oil for frying)
1/2 tsp red chili flakes
1/2 cup ricotta cheese (ish)
salt and pepper to taste
Start by slicing the eggplant into 1/2 in rounds. Put the rounds in a colander and salt them. Let them sit for 20 minutes while their juices drain out (and supposedly the bitterness exits, too). Then dice the onions and the garlic.
Melt the 4 tbsp of butter and olive oil together in a heavy-bottomed pan. Throw in the onions until they soften. Add in the garlic and let it sit for about a minute. Then pour in the tomatoes. Let the sauce simmer for twenty minutes and then set aside.
After the eggplant has drained, wash off the salt and dry it. Chop them into big cubes or leave them in rounds. Then you can start frying it up. Put some olive oil in a frying pan (about 1 tbsp) and turn the heat up to medium. Place the eggplant in the pan, grind some fresh black pepper over it, sprinkle some nice salt on top (we used some fleur de sel that Santa brought) and get both sides nice and brown. Repeat.
Make a box or two of pasta in salted water. Drain the pasta, pour the sauce over it, plop some nice sized dollops of ricotta on top, and then top that off with some fried eggplant. Serve it piping hot and enjoy. We tried two renditions. One where we cut the eggplant into chunks (pictured above) and one where we left them whole (pictured below). If you choose the chunk option, then we cut them up after frying them, but slicing them up before frying is a possibility, too.
The eggplant frying was the most time intensive part of this process. If you aren’t cooking for eight then it could actually move much more quickly. But, if you are hungry when you are food shopping, unsure about some of the measurements in your authentic Italian cookbook, and hoping for meals for the week, then make it our way. Just be armed with a bit of patience and a glass of wine. Two cooks cooking always makes a difference, too.