Summer is just hitting her stride in September and this gorgeous Pasta alla Norma is the perfect way to celebrate the season’s finest jewels; eggplant and tomatoes! Pasta alla Norma hails from Sicily and is named after the famous opera Norma which was composed by Catania Vincenzo Bellini. Whether you are a fan of the opera or not, this dish will make you sing.
2 pounds eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt, to taste
Olive oil, as needed
1 ½ pounds plum or Roma tomatoes, quartered
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
1 pound uncooked ziti, penne rigate,maccheroni
1 ½ ounces Ricotta Salata cheese, grated with a Microplane grater (about 1 cup)
Place chopped eggplant in a large strainer and toss in a generous pinch of salt. Toss to coat, then let sit and drain for 1 hour. If possible, place a little weight on the strainer to help extract excess moisture. Once the eggplant has drained for 1 hour, rinse in cold water, then pat dry with a tea towel.
Pour a few tablespoons of olive oil into a large skillet and set over medium heat. Add garlic and sizzle garlic for 1 to 2 minutes; take care not to burn the garlic.
Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes are fully broken down and very soft, about 10 minutes.
Using a spider or slotted spoon, transfer tomatoes to a large heatproof bowl; reserve liquid in skillet. Place a food mill over the skillet and pass the tomatoes through the food mill into the skillet, discarding tomato skins and other solids. Season with salt, and reduce heat to medium-low.
Cover partially, and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened and reduced, about 10 minutes. Stir in basil leaves and cook for 5 more minutes. Remove from heat, and cover to keep warm.
While tomato sauce cooks heat a few inches of olive oil in a high-sided skillet or large Dutch oven over medium-high, about 5 minutes. Add 3 to 4 cups of eggplant to the skillet in a single layer. (Eggplant should be almost fully submerged in oil.) Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of non-iodized salt. Fry, stirring occasionally, until eggplant cubes are golden brown and soft to the touch with a crispy exterior, 8 to 10 minutes. Using a spider or slotted spoon, transfer eggplant to a large plate to drain. Repeat with the second batch of eggplant and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Repeat until all of the eggplants has been fried.
Cook pasta in a large pot of salted water according to package directions for al dente. Drain.
Add pasta to the skillet of tomato sauce along with a ladle of pasta water and stir with the passion of an Italian to emulsify the sauce. Fold in fried eggplant.
To serve, transfer pasta to a rimmed platter or large shallow bowl. Top with Ricotta Salata, and garnish with fresh basil leaves.