Norma-style Pasta (Pasta alla Norma)
This divine pasta alla Norma is a vegetarian dish which celebrates simple flavours of Italy. Featuring aubergines, rich San Marzano tomatoes and creamy ricotta.
To prepare this dish you will need ricotta salata, which is a pressed, salted and aged cheese that is firm, bordering on hard, and almost brown. Versions of it are made outside Italy, but these are very soft and moist — much closer to everyday ricotta — and should not be used. If you cannot find the right type of cheese, do not make the dish. Parmigiano Reggiano or pecorino are just not the same.
The ideal pasta for this dish is short and tubular, such as penne or rigatoni, and the aubergines should be cut into pieces of a similar size.
|4 tbsp||extra virgin olive oil|
|2||garlic cloves, roughly chopped|
|½ tsp||dried chilli flakes|
|400g||fresh or canned San Marzano PDO tomatoes|
|3-4 tsp||sea salt (depending how salty the ricotta is)|
|1 tsp||double- or triple-concentrated tomato purée (optional)|
|1½ tsp||dried wild oregano or 8 torn fresh basil leaves|
|400g||rigatoni di Gragnano|
|Freshly ground black pepper|
|100g||ricotta salata, to serve|
Cut the aubergines into rounds about 2 cm thick. Wash them in a colander, then dry on a clean tea towel or kitchen paper and set aside. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large shallow pan and fry the aubergines (in batches if necessary) until they are brown and almost caramelized. Transfer to a plate but do not drain off any of the oil.
Add the remaining oil to the pan with the garlic and chilli, and fry until the garlic is almost brown. Add the tomatoes, salt, tomato purée (if using) and oregano. Cook for 10-15 minutes on a medium heat. Towards the end mash the tomatoes a little with a wooden spoon to create a rough sauce. Meanwhile, cook the rigatoni in boiling salted water until al dente.
Cut the aubergine slices into pieces that are a similar size to the pasta. Add them to the sauce and warm through. Taste and season. Pick out and set aside at least 8 pieces of aubergine. Drain the pasta, reserving a cupful of the cooking water. Add the pasta and a tablespoon of the reserved water to the sauce and mix by moving the pan back and forth.
Divide the pasta between 4 deep plates. Grate the ricotta salata over each portion and garnish with 2 or 3 pieces of the reserved aubergine.
Tip: If you want to use basil in this dish, add it at the end, just before serving.