Saturday, October 2, 2010

Pasta Alla Norma

A drawer full of eggplant and a lazy saturday afternoon means pasta alla Norma, a Sicilian specialty of eggplant, rich tomato sauce, and usually ricotta salata (we don't have any so looks like ricotta with salt and parmesan mixed in tonight) named to honor Vincenzo Bellini's opera Norma. The title role is one of the most difficult parts in the genre, only the greatest sopranos ever sing it.
I love eggplant. I don't think many people feel a passion for eggplant but I search it out on menus and try to cook it as often as possible when farmers markets are brimming with the purple beauties.
To start tonight's dinner I chopped one red onion and 4 cloves of garlic and let them sauté in hot olive oil. Next I added in the chopped eggplant and, stirring, let it cook until lightly browned -- about 10 minutes. Then I added in about 3 cups of chopped tomatoes -- I usually use canned for this recipe but our front yard is, finally, bursting with scads of bright red tomatoes (our cool summer brought a slow and late harvest this year) so I ground up several to use in the sauce. it makes the dish a bit pinker than when I use canned tomatoes but the fresh flavor is undeniable. In with the tomatoes goes a couple sprigs of basil and a spring of thyme along with a pinch of dried chili peppers. I bring it all up to a boil and let the mixture cook down for about 15 minutes.
When the pasta is drained I add it to the sauce along with a handful of chopped parsley, mint, basil, and a knob of butter. I stir the spaghetti in the sauce and serve topped with dollops of fresh ricotta (mixed with salt, parmesan, and oregano), a sprinkle of parsley and mint, and a dash of chili peppers.
A dinner to sing about.

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