Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Pasta alla Norma

So who's Norma? Jamie Oliver has no idea but thinks she must have been, "a good old girl". Epicurious, however alleges that this classic Sicilian dish was not invented by an Italian lady named Norma but created for the 1831 debut of the opera "Norma" by Vincenzo Bellini. Despite the fact that "Norma" debuted in Milan at La Scala, I'm going to stick with the Epicurious story because, after all Bellini was from Catania, Sicily. You could imagine the home-town folks celebrating the success of one of their own. no?

This dish goes best with the round, firm-fleshed light purple Sicilian eggplants that are starting to pop up in the open-air markets around Milan.
Dinner for a hungry 2 or primo piatto for 4:

1 medium-sized Sicilian eggplant (about 1 lb)
1 tbsp salt
5 tbsps olive oil, total
2 med. garlic cloves chopped fine
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp oregan dried, of course
1 lb fresh or canned roma tomatoes, diced
1/2 pound (250 grams) spaghetti
5-7 medium fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup crumbled ricotta salata (a dry, pressed version of fresh ricotta, similar to feta (but drier) in texture.

First cut the eggplant into a 1/2 inch dice and place in a collander, sprinkled with salt. Let stand for 1 hour. Meanwhile, prep all the other ingredients.

Place 2 tbsps oil in a large frying pan. Sautee the garlic for less than a minute until it turns blonde, no darker. Add tomatoes, oregano and red pepper flakes and simmer until the tomatoes break down into a chunky sauce, about 15 minutes. At this point take them off the heat.

Put the remaining 3 tbsps of oil in another frying pan and add the drained and towel-dried eggplant pieces. Fry them on all sides, about 7-8 minutes. Music to fry Sicilian eggplant by: "Infranta, sì, se alcun di voi snudaria" from "Norma" sung by none other than THE Maria Callas. Transfer eggplant to the tomato sauce, and don't forget to hit those high notes.

Boil the spaghetti according to package directions and add it to the sauce once it's al dente. Flip the pan a few times to distribute the sauce onto all the spaghetti, sprinkle on the basil and ricotta salata and serve piping hot. Enjoy!


Blogger Christina said...

I am SO making this when my eggplants get to harvest size. What a great way to use eggplant, something other than eggplant parmesan.

That lavender eggplant is very, very pretty. I have a plant in my garden that is also supposed to produce lavender fruit, but unlike the Japanese eggplants, this one has not yet set any fruit.

12:12 AM  
Blogger nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

this looks fantastic!

4:23 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Christina, Oh, what I would do if I had the room to grow more than one variety of eggplant. You're so lucky!

Hi Ragazza, Thanks!

5:06 PM  
Blogger gmcountrymama said...

That sounds and looks delicious. I will try it when my husbands eggplants are ready from his garden. Thanks.

7:24 AM  
Blogger Cherry said...

This sounds so good!
I have sworn off pasta until my wedding (I tend to over-indulge in the pasta), but this is definitely going on the menu for the week after!

I'll probably have to use feta instead of ricotta salata though.

9:04 AM  
Blogger Lotus Reads said...

Oh, yeah, I think I'd go with the Epicurious explanation for this pasta being called "Norma". I'm always on the lookout to do more with eggplant so I really appreciate this recipe Susan, except, I don't think I've noticed "crumbled ricotta salata" in the stores before, will have to look.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Countrymama, Wow, do all you, guys have victory gardens? In the country, I imagine you've got all kinds of room.

Hi Cherry, If you add feta and olives they call it, "pasta alla greca". Congratulations and best wishes, by the way.

Hi Lotus, Speaking of new things to do with eggplant, I've been experimenting with eggplant pakora, delicious!

11:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about a good RABBIT dish, there, Milanesa? Any Italian paella-like recipes laying around the old flat lately? hehehe.

3:27 PM  
Blogger ML said...

I love eggplant. This looks like a wonderful dish!

3:47 PM  
Anonymous ann said...

Oh, if only I could get the boyfriend to love eggplant as much as I do, I would run out, buy an eggplant and make this for dinner tonight! But alas, I'll have to wait til I get to cook for just me to try this!
thanks for the recipe!

2:26 AM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hey Anonymous, (Is that you, poetisa?) Who're you callin' vienerschnitzel? Now for the paella-like Italian recipe, up herer in Milan, I haven't seen any. Seafood risotto comes sorta close and then there's the Christmas Eve "zuppa di mare" with no rice, though and the "cioppino", a mixed seafood soup. I'll keep my eye out, though. Oh, and RABBIT: see this recipe: and instead of putting the rabbit in the oven, grill it. It's meant to be marinated and then grilled anyway.

8:09 PM  
Blogger J at said...

Oh.My.God. That looks GREAT. Love pasta, love eggplant. And miss Cherry up above is a real live friend of mine, so guess what I'm making her when she comes back from her honeymoon? YUMMY.

4:03 AM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi ML, It's a very rich dish.

Hi Ann, I have the same situation with beans. I'm a beanie and he's a beanist:)

Hi J., What a great way to help Cherry break her wedding diet! Let me know how it goes.

3:11 PM  

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