Pasta alla Norma, an Italian classic. Beautifully seared eggplant meets a rich sweet tomato sauce playing in the folds of a wonderful Pennoni pasta! Furthermore, add a grating of ricotta salata, totally delectable and exquisite!
Song of the day: "Sunday Morning" by Maroon 5.
[This post was first published in March 2015. It has been updated for photos and writeup].
Behind every great pasta is a great sauce, whether a simple oil, garlic, and chilies or a more complex Carbonara or pasta and broccoli, how about fettuccine with mushrooms, the end results is always fabulous. In addition, the fact remains that pasta is a great food if prepared properly.
Key points to great pasta
Three key points to a good pasta:
- Firstly, use good quality products.
- Secondly, pay attention to cooking times.
- Lastly, have a passion for what you do and cook with lots of love.
For us, pasta is a great dish when you have had a busy day and you want to make something quick and easy yet healthy and delicious.
To the South of Italy.........
The pasta I have prepared tonight is my version of Pasta alla Norma, a classic regional Italian dish, from Sicily to be precise. I used Pennoni, a big-size penne pasta, and a nice tomato sauce with a slight kick to it and a beautiful seared sliced eggplant, keeping some out of the sauce for garnish because we Italians like to highlight ingredients!
Cheese glorious cheese..........
The key to this dish is to use a ricotta salata, a salted ricotta cheese, instead of the Parmigiano, that you shave, or crumble, on top. It is going to melt in the sauce and become a delicious cream. I tried to be very close to the original recipe because you know, when it comes to Pasta alla Norma, it is a classic, consequently, a pretty serious business.
The beauty of freshness and quality.........
I love this picture above. It is like the ingredients are talking to me enticing me to get cooking. Look at the eggplant and those tomatoes, don't they look so beautiful. I can't wait to get started!
The joy of shopping.......
I went shopping at the Italian Center Shop to pick up key ingredients like San Marzano tomatoes, ricotta salata similar to feta but not so acidic and pungent. Also picked up some fresh basil, just because. The eggplant and garlic I picked up at the Old Strathcona Farmer's Market. The olive oil we always have on hand along with some nice dried chilies. When these ingredients team up the end result is always spectacular!
Time to get cooking!........
- Firstly we have to get that sauce simmering. Easy breezy: a splash of olive oil, some chili flakes, and garlic. Heat on and that oil gets all flavored up. In go the tomatoes that a break apart with my hands and furthermore with a potato masher and finish with some basil torn up, salt and pepper. A low simmer and the sauce is on its way!
- Secondly, have to cut up the eggplant. I peel it first then cut it into rounds ½ cm thick, adding an additional cut in half creating two half circles. Olive oil in a pan and I sear these babies, in two batches, as not to crowd the pan, until golden and a slight char. While that is happening I grate some of the ricotta salata.
- Lastly, the lovely cooked eggplant goes into the sauce that has thickened and become so sweet and rich. Oh, save some of the cooked eggplant for garnish! Look how lovely that eggplant looks so lovingly bathed by the tomato sauce.
It's pasta time.........
A good size pot of salted water boiling on the stovetop and in goes our pasta. Always look at the cooking time on the package, however, don't take that as the absolute. Taste the pasta when close to the end cooking time. It always should be al dente meaning a slight crunch! This really highlights the flavor of the pasta!
As for the pasta shapes, traditionally only "pasta corta" (short pasta) is allowed for Pasta alla Norma. Think rigatoni, sedani, mezze maniche, maccheroni, penne/pennoni.
Quasi pronto means almost ready in Italian. It is now that we really feel our hunger elevate and consequently a symphony of stirring and groans coming from our stomach!
Our pasta is cooked, we mixed it in the sauce with eggplant. Now the only thing left is to plate and let's step up the pace because I am super hungry!
The aroma coming off this dish and the kitchen transport me back to Italy. I love Sunday mornings in a small town. You hear the clanking of spoons and dishes, however, there is something even better, the aroma of all that good food cooking! It is a total heavenly experience. One that I hold in my heart deeply! Oh, by the way, for those of you that don't know what mangia mangia means, it is EAT! EAT! Lol.
Now back to the Pasta alla Norma, an Italian classic! Talk about working together, that rich sauce with a nice subtle spicy hit pairs so well with the sweetness and caramelized flavor of the eggplant. The ricotta salata offers a beautiful balance of acidity and with each bite, the craving for more gets even stronger!
One thing for sure, the Italian culture is really about food! These dishes are a deep-rooted memory into our past and respected today. Steeped in flavor and texture, they are great dishes to bring to the lunch or dinner table, so why not make tonight Italian and serve up some plates of this Pasta alla Norma, an Italian classic.