Zitoni alla Norma (Pasta with Aubergines and Tomatoes)
‘Ziti’ means ‘fiance’ so it’s probably no surprise that this type of pasta is one of the main dishes served at weddings. Ziti are long, thin rectangular tubes, and zitoni (or penne candela as they’re also called) are their big brother – wider and more versatile as they’re big enough to be stuffed, or as the Sicilians do, made into pies or savoury pasta ‘cakes’. Pasta alla Norma is one of Sicily’s most famous recipes, made with several of the island’s sun-soaked riches – aubergine, tomato and basil. Supposedly the dish was named in the nineteenth century, when theatre director and writer Nino Martoglio tasted the sauce
and was so impressed by it that he compared it to Vincenzo Bellini’s opera masterpiece, Norma. The reasons I return to this dish time and again are simple: my wife is Sicilian and my children love slurping zitoni so it keeps everybody happy. You need to buy dried pasta for this recipe, never fresh.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, sliced
- 8 basil leaves, plus a few extra to garnish
- 10 tinned anchovy fillets, drained
- 1 tbsp capers
- 250ml Tomato Sauce (see below)
- 400g zitoni (or candele lunghe snapped in half)
- about 500ml sunflower oil
- 1 aubergine, halved lenghtways,each half cut into 6 slices
- plain flour, to dust
- 2 tbsp pecorino cheese
- 2 tbsp aged ricotta shavings
- For the Tomato Sauce:
- 300g white onion, very finely sliced
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1kg ripe good-flavoured tomatoes (preferably on the vine), roughly chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 20g basil leaves
- sea salt
For the tomato sauce:
Put the onion into a saucepan with half the oil and let it sweat slowly over a low-medium heat for around 15 minutes until it's soft (do not allow it to colour). If it looks as though it might catch, add a splash of water to the pan.
Add the tomaoes and season with salt. Leave to simmer over a low heat for about 45 minutes, unitl the tomatoes are thick and rich, adding a little water if the level of the liquid gets too low. Remove from the heat.
Put the remaining oil in another pan with the garlic and cook over a low-medium heat. When it's almost golden brown, add the basil leaves and stir. Pass the oil though a sieve into the cooked tomato sauce.
Whisk the sauce to break up the tomatoes. If it's too thick, thin it with a little water, ideall some pasta cooking water. Pass the sauce through a wide-holed sieve resting over a bowl, and use the back of a ladle to extract the smooth mixture. Check the seasoning and add more salt if necessary.
For the Zitoni alla Norma:
Place the oil in a saucepan over a medium heat and sweat the garlic until golden. Add the basil, anchovies, capers and tomato sauce and heat through, then keep on a low heat.
Cook the zitoni according to the packet instructions, until al dente, then drain, reserving 250ml of the cooking liquid.
While the pasta is cooking, heat the sunflower oil in a deep saucepan or fat fryer until it reaches 185ºC. Dust the aubergine slices with flour and fry the aubergines until nice and golden. Remove and drain on kitchen paper. It is important to coat the aubergines in the flour as this stops the oil getting to the flesh and prevents the aubergines going soggy.
Stir the pasta into the sauce with about a ladleful of the reserved cooking liquid. Mix well, add the pecorino, then divide between warmed serving bowls, top with the fried aubergine slices, then sprinkle over the ricotta and extra basil leaves.