Thursday, 28 January 2016

Oh, Norma!

Pasta alla Norma, Gratinata al Forno
Oven Baked Pasta alla Norma

When a Sicilian, living in Germany, is feeling the cold, missing the sun and needing some comforting... what does he do? He makes himself a wonderful, heart-warming, tummy-filling and delicious plate of comfort food of course!

And when it is the Sicilian National Dish of "Pasta alla Norma", but in a version that is quick and easy to make and baked until crispy on the outside whilst being juicy and delicious beneath. Well, then you can bet your bottom dollar that it is going to make him end his long day wearing a broad smile smile emoticon

Pasta, eggplant, tomato, salted ricotta cheese- those are the main ingredients and they work beautifully together! No wonder it is so well-loved and made all over Sicily- and indeed the whole of Italy! 

There a of course many variations on that same theme- and this was a quick and light version that I am sure you are going to enjoy!

For 2 decent servings of pasta, I needed 1 medium eggplant, 1 shallot, 6-7 cherry tomatoes, 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, fresh basil and parsley, salt, pepper, olive oil... and salted ricotta for grating of course. And obviously my pasta of choice- in this case, nice, chunky tortiglione.

Considering there was only 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in the whole dish- and the fact that, as oils go, olive oil is one of the healthiest anyway- this wasn't even all that sinful.

Indeed, it was much lighter than the usual (but also delicious!) versions made using fried eggplant. 

This is how I made it.

I began by peeling and cutting the eggplant into pieces that were roughly the same size as the pasta- it makes for a better feeling bite later on. I sprinkled it with salt and let it sit for 10 minutes, then wrung out most of the moisture, before cooking it in a very hot pan, along with the chopped shallot. I will not say "frying", because at that stage there was no oil in the pan. Simply keep the eggplant moving and you will see that the heat makes it moister still, which keeps it from sticking, and it soon begins to turn golden brown all by itself.

Next, add the chopped cherry tomatoes, the tomato paste, a good handful of coarsely chopped basil and season with a little salt, but plenty of pepper. And NOW you may add 1 tablespoon of oil- at this point, the eggplant is not going to soak up the oil like a sponge anymore!

In the meantime, turn on the oven to get it hot and begin boiling your pasta... and around 5 minutes later, the eggplant will look like this- tender, rich and flavorful.

You can feel free to add garlic or chili pepper to yours... but this evening... I didn't wink emoticon

After the pasta has boiled for 5 minutes, add it to the eggplant, along with a good amount of the water it boiled in and continue cooking in the frying pan.

After stirring and cooking and reducing down that water, you will find that along with that small amount of tomato paste and the fresh cherry tomatoes, you will soon have a rich a fruity sauce coating your pasta! It's like magic!

Spoon your pasta into a baking dish, add more pepper and grate generously with salted ricotta. Add a last light drizzle of olive oil on top and bake for 10-15 minutes at 200°C until the ricotta slightly melts and begins to turn golden and crispy.

Add a leaf or two of parsley or basil and serve with no further ado! What a wonderful and simple Sicilian dish! One that you have just got to love!

Just like me!

How can you possibly resist???

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