Friday, May 12, 2023

Pasta Sorta Norma

Adapted from Rachel Eats by Rachel Roddy

This recipe is from Rachel Roddy's blog, Rachel Eats. She is the writer of three cookbooks, all of which I like very much. In fact, in a library of over thirteen hundred books, her book Five Quarters is literally my favorite cookbook. If I could have only one, that would be it because I can read from it like a novel and cook delicious meals from it too.

Her books were all published in England before being published here, and I have the English versions in my library. I recently got a copy of the American edition of her newest book, An A - Z of Pasta, to gift for Christmas, and I am surprised, but it is even more beautiful than the English edition. I'm having trouble giving it away. The question is (always) do I need two?

This recipe, inspired by, but not, Pasta Alla Norma, a dish typical to Catania in Sicily, is from her blog. I call it Pasta Sorta Norma.

This was my favorite new dish of summer 2022; I have already made it about a million times. When I’m making it for 2 (which is, essentially, always), I use one small Italian eggplant (about 8 ounces), but I do not change the amount of tomatoes.

I prefer the pecorino cheese here over the Parmesan or ricotta salata.

Pasta with Eggplant, Tomato, Basil, and Cheese
Pasta Sorta Norma
Adapted from Rachel Eats by Rachel Roddy

Serves 4

1 eggplant (I use 1 small Italian, not Japanese, eggplant  weighing about 8 ounces.)

Extra virgin olive oil.

2 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into thick slices

400g tinned plum tomatoes, roughly chopped (I squish them by hand.)


Fresh basil (If you don't have fresh basil, do not substitute dried; just skip it.)

Pecorino Romano, or Parmesan, or ricotta salata (I prefer the pecorino Romano)

Short pasta - penne works well. (I make 3 ounces of pasta per person for a dinner portion, and, I think, this is very generous, but I know a lot of people make 4. For a starter portion, use no more than 2 ounces per person.)

Cut the spiky cap from the eggplant, and then cut the eggplant into 1 cm thick slices. (Don't get me started on why we don't use metric measurements - a centimeter is slightly more than 1/4 of an inch.) Cut the slices into 1 cm cubes, first cutting in one direction, then perpendicular in the other. 

Cover the bottom of a sauté pan with 1 cm of olive oil, and warm over a medium/high flame. Once the oil is quite hot, add a single layer of eggplant, and cook until tender and golden, then remove with a slotted spoon onto a plate. (Because I use such a small eggplant, it all fits in a 3-quart pan. If all your eggplant isn’t cooked, continue cooking the eggplant in batches until it is all done.)

You should still have some olive oil in the pan; if not, add some more. You want about 4 tablespoons. Once the olive oil has cooled a little, add the garlic and cook until lightly gold and fragrant – do not let it burn, or it will be bitter.

Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring often and pressing gently with the back of a wooden spoon, until thick and saucy but not dry. Add salt to taste. Add the eggplant cubes to the tomatoes, cook for another minute or so, then pull from the heat, and STILL OFF THE HEAT add a handful of fresh torn basil leaves. Do not substitute dried basil. If you don't have fresh, leave it out.

Meanwhile, having brought a large pan of water to the boil, add salt, stir, and then add the pasta and cook until al dente.  Drain or scoop the pasta and add to the sauce and stir.  Add cheese and stir before serving rather than sprinkling it over the pasta after it is plated.  

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