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!