Light, Baked, Pasta alla Norma
Pasta alla Norma, that most ubiquitous of all Sicilian pasta dishes... Tomato, eggplant, basil and salted ricotta... Truly a sublime combination, more than worthy of its legendary status and as beautiful as the opera it is named after...
Usually, the preparation of this dish involves frying the eggplant in olive oil, which though delicious, can at times tend to soak up a little bit too much oil for my liking. And so I decided to make mine a little differently this evening.
Doesn't look bad either, does it?
My original intention was simply to make a classic pasta alla Norma and bake it in the oven... But then I thought to myself... If the oven is going to be turned on anyway, why not bake the eggplant that I use to line my baking dish rather than frying it?
There are so many dishes that we prepare in Sicily and the south in which we bake the eggplant first until it becomes basically dehydrated and is then re-hydrated with vinegar or lemon juice and raw olive oil later on... So this time I did the same with the eggplant and my makeshift tomato sauce.
And a very good idea it turned out to be too!
For my spectacular little single serving, I needed 1 eggplant, 1 shallot, 9-10 cherry tomatoes, 1 tablespoon of tomato purée, a handful of fresh basil, salt, pepper, olive oil and of course, the all important salted ricotta.
What a beautiful little parcel of pasta! And what a delicious and delightful surprise when you get inside and have that rich a flavorful filling! A Sicilian secret, all wrapped-up for your guests in a layer of golden eggplant.
I began by cutting the eggplant into slices, placed 5-6 of them onto a rack and popped them into the oven at the highest setting to bake for 4-5 minutes.
In the meantime, I cut the other slices into a relatively small dice and dry- fried them for 5-6 minutes until they became golden brown.
And there were the baked slices... Fat-free and lightly golden. I sprinkled them with a little salt whilst they were still warm, so that they could absorb it better, but otherwise left them to cool off whilst I carried on with the rest.
Whilst my pasta was boiling, I set the diced eggplant to one side and I sautéed the shallot, finely chopped, until golden in a little olive oil. I then added the tomatoes, tomato purée, plenty of basil and a little pepper and stirred everything together well. I didn't add any salt at this point, as I knew there would be plenty of salted ricotta going into the mix in just a short while.
After the pasta had boiled for 5-6 minutes, i spooned it into the frying pan with plenty of the water it had been boiling in, and suddenly... As if by magic... I had a sauce bubbling! The tomato purée is what does the trick!
Once all of the water had been absorbed and the sauce had turned deep, fruity red, I added the eggplant back into it and grated it with plenty of salted ricotta cheese.
And once everything was richly and deliciously coated in sauce and ricotta, it was ready to fill into my baking dish, which I had lightly coated in olive oil and lined with baked eggplant slices.
I added a last generous sprinkle of salted ricotta & pepper, then folded the eggplant slices shut, sealing everything in and then popped it into rh oven, set at 200 C to bake for a good 30 minutes.
And after a half hour, I set my little serving plate on top of my baking dish, turned it upside down... And prayed... And waited... And then finally lifted it up to see what I had created!
A lovely, golden parcel, ready to be grated with a little more salted ricotta, scattered with black pepper and cut into with a sharp knife to reveal its lovely filling!
All of this fun and flavor and so little fat and frying! I like that! And I hope you do too!