Pasta with Tomato, Aubergines and Ricotta Salata. Pasta alla Norma e Ricotta Salata
If there is a pasta dish which best represents Sicily, it is surely pasta alla Norma. This vegetarian summer recipe, originally from Catania, owes its appeal to just a few ingredients, which have to be of the finest quality. Most importantly, the way in which it is assembled is vital to its success.
|700g (1lb 9oz)||aubergines, ideally nera di Palermo, though regular aubergines are fine|
|coarse sea salt|
|1kg (2 1/4lb)||sweet, ripe cherry tomatoes|
|extra virgin olive oil (I use Tonda Iblea)|
|2||garlic cloves, ideally pink garlic, finely sliced|
|2 handfuls||basil leaves, half roughly shredded|
|80g (2 3/4oz)||ricotta salata, or pecorino cheese, finely grated|
Remove the stems from the aubergines, cut them lengthways into 5–7mm- (¼in-) thick slices, sprinkle on both sides with coarse sea salt, and place in a sieve over the kitchen sink. Set aside for 30 minutes to draw out the water.
Meanwhile, remove and discard the stalks from the tomatoes and place in a large bowl. Pour over boiling water from the kettle to just cover and leave for 30 seconds, then drain. The skins should slip off. Remove the skins and finely chop the flesh.
Brush the salt on the aubergine slices and dab them dry, pressing firmly. Heat 5–6 tbsp olive oil in a large, deep saucepan and cook the garlic until it gets a bit of colour, but don’t let it burn. Then stir in the tomatoes, add some sea salt, stir in the shredded basil, season with chilli flakes, and gently until the sauce has thickened slightly.
Heat about 1cm (½in) of olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Fry the aubergine slices – in batches so as not to crowd the pan – in the hot oil until golden. Drain on kitchen paper. Tear 4 slices into strips by hand and set everything aside to keep warm.
Fill a large saucepan with plenty of water and place over a high heat. When it comes to the boil, sprinkle in coarse sea salt and cook the spaghetti until al dente (usually 1 minute less than the time stated on the packet). Drain the pasta, return it to the pan, then mix well with the tomato sauce and the torn strips of aubergine.
Arrange the pasta on a serving dish and scatter with the remaining basil leaves. Put the sautéed whole aubergine slices on a second serving dish, and the grated cheese on a third, then serve.
Drawing out the water: today’s aubergine varieties don’t usually need to have their juices extracted to remove bitterness. The reason we do it here is to avoid the slices soaking up too much oil. If you would prefer to skip this step, you will use more oil when frying, but this can mostly be removed by laying the slices on kitchen paper. In any case, to prepare a genuine Norma, you should be generous with the olive oil.