Pasta alla Norma, an Italian hit

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It was extremely hot in Catania, Sicily, that summer afternoon in the 1920s. The Etna volcano was rumbling in the background and the elegant streets of the city were still, bashed by the sweltering heat. Despite all, the local intelligentsia was reunited for a lunch in a noble palace on the smart via Etnea, the famous road which links the volcano to the sea. Chatting and drinking white wine, the guests were waiting for the lunch to begin. When a wonderful dish of maccheroni with tomato sauce, fried aubergines and salted hard ricotta was served, Mr Marfoglio, a well known comedian, suddenly uttered “Oh my, this is a true Norma!” in order to celebrate the proficiency of the chef.

Norma, in fact, is the title of an Opera by Vincenzo Bellini, who was Sicilian too and passionately loved in Catania; to name a dish after his Norma meant to akcnowledge that recipe as a perfect one.

So here is the story; about this recipe I can just add that you must have on hand the best ingredients, because its semplicity only becomes art using the perfect things. And, of course, following my advice!

Serves 4

  • 2  long aubergines, around 500 gr
  • 800 gr tomato (passata or best if whole)
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 10 tbsp extra virgin olive oil + more for frying (you can use also a nut seeds oil, less expensive)
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 12 basil leaves
  • 150 gr hard  salted ricotta
  • 350 gr maccheroni

Heat the oil in a pan, add the garlic and let it become golden brown, gently stirring. Remove the garlic, pour the tomato and basil leaves and cook for 30 minutes on medium heat, stirring regularly every now and then. 10 minutes before the end sprinkle the sauce with sugar and season with salt and pepper to taste. When the sauce is ready- it should be thick, about 20-30 mins- whizz with an electric blender and set aside.

Grate the ricotta, using the biggest holes of your shredder.

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Wash the aubergines under running water, slice to 0,5 cm and then cube to 2×2 cm. Sprinkle with sea salt, lay on an inclined plane, so that the liquid wich will form can drip away, and leave to stay for 30 minutes. Dry with kithchen paper and set aside.

Now boil the maccheroni in salted water and, at the same time, fry the aubergines in a pan until golden brown; do not use much oil, this is not a deep fry technique. It will be enough if the bottom of the pan is covered with 1 cm oil. Thoroughly drain the aubergines on kitchen paper.

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Drain the maccheroni and place in a large bowl; season with the sauce, which you will have warmed, and almost all the aubergines. Mix well, then add grated ricotta and top with some other fried aubergines. Serve immediately.