Sunday Pasta: Rigatoni alla Norma (Pasta with Eggplant)

Rigatoni alla Norma.So dark, so bitter, so misunderstood. So Sicilian. Ok, enough about me. Let’s talk about eggplant (which like me) is an acquired taste.

As I watch my children gag over eggplant, I recall my own such repulsion as a child. Why and when eggplant became delicious to me is somewhat of a blur, but if I recall, the moment involved both rigatoni and olive oil. Although she didn’t call it Norma, my grandmother regularly whipped up this Sicilian classic. In retrospect, it tied well into my grandfather’s passion for opera, as it is named after Vincenzo Bellini’s opera Norma. (It was supposedly so named by the Sicilian writer Nino Martoglio, who was so impressed by the dish that he compared it to the Opera).
 
In any case, call it Pasta alla Melanzana if you prefer, and use penne or spaghetti if you please, but with one taste, you will understand that this dish is neither dark nor bitter at all (like me, generally).

2 medium eggplants
1 can peeled Italian tomatoes, with basil (pureed)
1 onion (chopped)
1/2 cup olive oil for the sauce
6 oz ricotta salata (grated)
1 tsp salt and pepper for the sauce
Basil
Ample salt for the eggplant
Ample olive oil for frying the eggplant

Wash and cut the eggplant(horizontally) into 1/4 inch wide slices. Sprinkle both sides with salt and place into a colander. Place a plate and something heavy on top of the plate so that the weight presses down on the eggplant. Let sit for a good hour. (This process allows the bitterness to drain out of the eggplant.)

Meanwhile, sauté the onion in the olive oil until golden, then add the tomatoes, salt and pepper and cook on low heat for 30-45 minutes (until reduced by about 1/3). In another pan, fry the eggplant in up to 1 inch of olive oil until golden.  (As an alternative you can coat the eggplant in olive oil and bake at 400 until golden, making sure to turn over regularly). Either way, the place fried eggplant on a paper towel and keep warm.

Cook the rigatoni until al dente, drain, and place into a large serving bowl. Add a ladle of sauce and mix in 1/2 of the ricotta. Serve immediately in individual bowls, covered with some more sauce and 4-5 pieces of eggplant. Sprinkle on the remaining ricotta. Salt and pepper to taste, and garnish with basil.  Serves 4-6.

Visit tomorrow for pairings to accompany Rigatoni alla Norma (Pasta with Eggplant).

Buon Appetito.
Ed Garrubbo, Editor.

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