Thursday, 6 February 2014

The Girl's on Fire!

Penne alla Norma, Gratinata al'Arrabiata 
Fiery Penne alla Norma Gratin

This evening I had a date with my old love, Norma. We have a love affair that has been going on for years, Norma and I... the only thing is- she has been pleasuring the rest of the whole damned world for years, too! Penne alla Norma can almost be said to be the national dish of Sicily. And it is no wonder that everybody loves it either, as it has the natural beauty of eggplant, tomato and basil to tempt us all with- juicy, succulent and delicious... and no wonder at all that they named it after that beautiful opera...

Norma is such a peaceful dish- especially compared to the hot and spicy Penne al' Arabbiata, which is probably even more popular, with its red-hot chilli and simple tomato sauce. Many years ago, people outside of Italy would consider orderingthis hot and spicy dish as a dare, to impress their friends and to prove how fearless they were. As times have changed, the hot and spicy pasta dish is simply considered to be a wonderful and enjoyable meal- how good that the word got around!

This evening, I got home late, I got home hungry and I got home needing something rich and comforting. But at the same time, I was not going to get making anything TOO complicated at such a late hour. Nope, I was just going to make pasta!

What you can see below are the major ingredients- eggplant, tomatoes (passata, straight from the bottle), basil, provolone cheese, but of course some other ingredients that are not in the photo went in there too- but don't worry! What I made was a simple dish- nothing else crazy went in there and it was just a combination of those 2 Italian favorites, put together in a slightly different way. Yep- that's just what I am all about! I like things to be simple but good!

This is a super-quick version to make- which I know you will love, because you know that makes sense after a long day at work. It cuts a lot of corners, cuts out a lot of fat and tastes just plain terrific! So let me tell you how I made it...

I began by cutting the eggplant in half and then into slices, resulting in nice, large, 
bite-sized thick pieces which went into my non-stick pan without a drop of oil. 

In the meantime I started the water boiling in my saucepan and the oven heating in advance to be ready... this is one of those "think ahead and multi-task" kinda affairs. I then added a small shallot to the frying pan, an inch or so of finely sliced chilli and a little finely chopped garlic. Easy so far isn't it? After stirring this around for a minute or so, I added just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan and let it bubble away until it had evaporated away, then flipped over the eggplant and did the same thing once more.

The next thing to do was to pop the penne into the boiling water and to let them boil for 7-8 minutes. And to get busy, improvising a tasty and good sauce ;-) I added the "passata" of tomato, a little olive oil and a nice handful of basil leaves. I seasoned this with salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar and a hint of nutmeg, then put on the lid and let it simmer for the next 10 minutes or so...

Whilst the makeshift sauce gently bubbled away, after 8 minutes or so, the pasta was almost done, so I drained it and added it to the frying pan. The pasta took on and soaked up the sauce wonderfully and was ready to be poured-out into a fireproof dish, plate or tray in no time.  Now it was ready to be sprinkled with the grated Provolone and baked in the oven for 10 minutes or so. As you can see, this was just enough cheese to keep the balance right, in my opinion ;-) But as the authentic Penne alla Norma should be grated with salted Ricotta, rather than Provolone, I am not going to get all "holier then thou" about it. 

You can obviously add more cheese to yours if you so prefer, but I like to keep things, as I said, balanced. I used Provolone because it was all I had at home at the time this evening... and I recommend that you do too- don't stress over it!  As long as you have the eggplant, chillies, basil and tomato sauce, you are halfway there!

After 10 minutes in the oven, it looked like this... just gorgeous! So that was just over 20 minutes of cooking time in all and I can't imagine whipping together many things that are as delicious as this in such a short time, with so little effort and for so little cost.

So what are you all waiting for? Go make it for yourselves and enjoy! You know you want to! Buon appetito!

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