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Friday, 31 August 2007

Recipe of the month : Pasta alla Norma

This pasta was named to honour the opera "Norma" written by the Sicilian composer, Vincenzo Bellini.

There are two stories to explain this name : The first is that a Sicilian chef was so excited by Bellini’s Norma that as soon as he got back to his kitchen he concocted this sauce where the sliced eggplant, tomato sauce and ricotta salata (typical cheese for the region) blend with the spaghetti. The second (and more likely) is that some of Bellini’s compatriots, delighted by the beauty of his opera, started using the new superlative una vera Norma (A real Norma), which was used to praise the merits of a product or a deed.

Whatever the story is, you will love this simple yet delicious Sicilian classic , that requires no special knowledge in the kitchen :

Ingredients (serves 4)
450–500 grams of pasta, it can be either spaghetti or maccheroni (possibly Barilla or De Cecco brand)

3 eggplants

1 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic

tomato sauce (your own recipe, or see below)

Salt and pepper to taste

3/4 cup basil, coarsely chopped

200 grams of crumbled ricotta salata (salted ricotta) which is what makes this recipe authentic, ricotta salata should be available in the best Italian groceries.

Cut the eggplants into fine slices (or dices) after cutting off the stems Spread the slices in layers on a cutting board and cover each layer with salt. Place the board at an angle in the dish rack to allow the liquid to run directly into the sink. Cover the eggplants with a weight (for instance a pot filled with water) and leave standing for two hours. Meanwhile prepare the tomato sauce. Fry an onion and two cloves of garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add a large can of tomatoes (preferably imported from Italy) or 700 grams of diced fresh tomatoes, a pinch of sugar, salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook for approximately 20 minutes stirring occasionally. Once the sauce has thickened, pass it through a grinder (or a blender if you’re not Italian). Pour the sauce back into the pan and reduce for another 5 minutes. After the required time, rinse and dry the eggplant slices. Cover them lightly in flour to prevent the vegetable from soaking up oil. Boil the water for your pasta and warm up the tomato sauce if necessary. Meanwhile fry the eggplant slices in hot olive oil (about 400°F/205°C) a few at a time, about two minutes on each side. Wipe off the excess oil from the slices and keep them warm.When the pasta is ready (al dente!), place it in a large serving bowl. First add the cheese; mix well before adding the tomato sauce, the basil and the eggplant. Mix and serve right away. Buon appetito!

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