Pasta alla Norma

pasta-alla-norma
Norma is not your normal pasta

We like heavy pastas in our household. Ragù. Spaghetti and meatballs. Pasta alla Gricia. We love the slow simmer, building of flavors, and richness of these dishes. And, yes, pasta is carbs. Carbs are comfort food. So why not, while you’re already eating something deemed “unhealthy,” pile on the prosciutto, guanciale, and sausage? But this vegetarian pasta, recipe courtesy of Mark Bittman, holds its own against our meaty favorites. Staring eggplant, it makes for a delicious, refined, and relatively quick dinner. And with a grating of ricotta salata and a sprinkling of freshly chopped herbs, it has an unbeatable fresh flavor. Enjoy as you’re easing out of summer! Save those heavier pastas for the upcoming cold.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large eggplant, cut lengthwise into thin slices (bit thinner than 1/2 inch)
  • salt & pepper
  • lots of olive oil, up to 1/2 cup
  • 1 TBS chopped garlic
  • 2-3 tsp chili flakes (depending on spice preference)
  • 1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 pound long pasta
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley or basil (or combo)
  • 1/2 cup ricotta salata (or, if you must, pecorino Romano)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Sprinkle eggplant slices with 1-2 tsp salt and let drain of excess moisture. We do this by layering the slices in a colander and then placing a small plate weighed down with a can or big glass of water on-top, pushing down on the eggplant. We’ll let this sit for 20 minutes, patting the eggplant with paper towels afterwards. There are some other methods! This will prevent your eggplant from being soggy and bitter.
  3. After drying slices, arrange on a large, well oiled baking sheet. Brush with more olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 20-25 minutes flipping at least once. You’ll went the eggplant slices to be nicely browned, soft, but with a good crisp.
  4. While eggplant is roasting, make the sauce and bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a large, deep skillet heat 2-3 TBS olive oil over medium heat. Once shimmering, add garlic and chili flakes, cooking until garlic has browned a bit and is fragrant. Add the tomatoes and juice, squeezing the whole tomatoes with your hand to crush, and oregano. Add a bit of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then simmer while eggplant and pasta finish cooking.
  5. Cook pasta until al dente. While cooking, cut the eggplant slices into strips. Transfer 1/4 of slices into simmering sauce. Set the rest aside.
  6. Add cooked pasta to tomato sauce.* Dress with remaining eggplant strips and a generous topping of freshly grated ricotta salata, basil, and/or parsley.

Details: Serves 4-6.

*Note: We like to keep the pasta and sauce separate and let people prep their own plates according to their sauce to pasta ratio preference. Not so traditional of us, but we are sauce-y people!

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