Pasta with Eggplant, Cherry Tomatoes, Salted Ricotta, Oregano & Basil
Pasta- glorious, comforting, always down-to-earth and delicious pasta! With no end to the possibilities of preparing and serving it, it is one of the most versatile basics we can always rely on in our pantries! Thank heavens my ancestors invented it! No disrespect to my Asian friends out there- but noodles are noodles... and pasta is pasta! And basta!
One of my favorite dishes is "Penne alla Norma"- one of the most traditional of Sicilian pasta dishes, with fried eggplant, tomatoes and basil- and you can't go wrong with a combination like that! But this evening, I skimped just a little on the oil, added plenty of dried oregano into the mix and let the ingredients stew down with the pasta a little to make it just a little bit different... and topped with salted Ricotta cheese, just a tasty as tasty can be!
A great misconception when it comes to pasta and a sad one at that, in my humble opinion, is that you should prepare your pasta, drain it, set it onto your plate and then spoon your sauce on top... no, no and thrice no! Worse still is when people put oil or butter onto their plain pasta before serving it up and THEN adding a sauce! Aaargh! Please people, no! The way it SHOULD be done, is for the pasta to be stirred into the sauce or condiment, nicely coated and then served up, rich and flavorful- not plain and dried out! Give the pasta a nice coating of flavor and let it be good- don't drown it and smother it either. Oh, I know what's best- to stop griping and to start showing, right? Ok- then follow me!
My ingredients as always were minimal and simple- 1 eggplant, 1 onion, 10-15 cherry tomatoes ( I will leave that up to your own taste and judgement), garlic which is optional, fresh basil and dried oregano. I used a handful and a half of "mezza-rigatoni rigate" for my dish, but you can use whichever kind of pasta you prefer. Oh yes- and that deliciously soft and pungent, salted Ricotta cheese for grating at the end- mmm!
Norma- I love ya- but I couldn't do without adding the oregano this evening- just to liven you up a bit... I know you will forgive me! You know you want it too! Haha!
I diced the eggplant and onion rather finely and halved the cherry tomatoes. As I said, garlic would also be great, but I omit it on many occasions as I know that a lot of people prefer to do without... they probably get a lot more kisses than I do too!
I sweated the eggplant and onion down in a little olive oil, seasoned it with salt and pepper and kept stirring until they softened-up and began to gently brown.
I then added the tomatoes and a good handful of basil, which I chopped down into shreds. I stirred them in well and cooked everything down until it began to come together nicely , then seasoned with plenty of pepper and nutmeg... it's best to go skimpy on the seasoning when you are using salted Ricotta!
Once the tomatoes and eggplant had reduced down, I added the almost, but not-quite "al-dente" pasta, along with a good bit of the water it had boiled in- enough to cover the base of the pan and bring up all of the cooked-in flavors. I then carefully stirred it in and let the boiling water transform the residue on the base of the pan, the juices and the soft flesh of the eggplant and tomatoes into a rich condiment for the pasta- and so delicious!
After around 5 minutes of gentle stirring, the pasta had a nice and unctuous dressing of eggplant and tomato, the water had transformed into a nice sauce... and it was ready to serve! A sprinkle of oregano, a grind of pepper and a light grating with salted Ricotta- and dare I say, "buon appetito!"
This is exactly what Italian cooking is all about... good, simple food! So please- grab yourself a plate and enjoy!
Anyone for seconds?