Pasta is the perfect example of how keeping things simple in the kitchen can be the key to cooking wonderful dishes. And when it’s done right, this Italian staple can become a gourmet treat, perfect for pairing with a good glass of wine. This recipe was originally published during France’s first lockdown, when some of us found more time to spend at the stove. Why not set aside an evening to slow down and make this beautiful pasta alla Norma?
Dear readers and wine lovers,
For a little bit of context, lockdown with my family means I’m lucky enough to currently be quarantined with a lovely, young Italian. Not only is she bringing some light into our lives, she has also agreed to divulge some of her cooking secrets – and since she is a generous soul, she’s letting me share this recipe with you.
Here is what you’ll need to make this dish, including variations:
Ingredients for 4 people
- Some aubergines (2 should be enough)
- About 400g tomatoes
- A clove of garlic
- Basil if you have some, otherwise herbes de Provence
- Now, I’ve been reliably informed that the best pasta for this recipe is rigatoni…but we didn’t have any. The important thing is to choose any kind of pasta with a tube shape in order to hold the sauce.
- Ricotta, if you’re a traditionalist. Olimpia says that Provola cheese is also wonderful as a second option. We had to settle for some pecorino. And if not, a mountain of parmesan will do the trick, shavings if possible.
- Sunflower oil
- White sugar
Cut the aubergines into cubes. Let them sweat for an hour in a colander with some rock salt. Rinse them.
In a pan, heat some oil. When the oil is hot, add the cubes of aubergine – the oil should cover them. When the aubergines are crispy and golden, remove them from the pan with a spatula, dry them on some kitchen towel, and add a bit of salt.
Make sure to leave the hot oil in the pan and add the peeled clove of garlic.
Cut the tomatoes in half and place them face down in the pan. Cover them to retain the water and leave them to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Stir regularly to avoid burning.
Secrets for cooking the pasta…
Here’s what you’ve been waiting for – you’re about to become a pasta pro.
Whilst the tomatoes are cooking, heat some water in a big-enough pan (for the Italians, the pan is never big enough…).
Keep an eye on the tomatoes, and once they’ve started to sweat add two teaspoons of sugar and remove the lid.
Come back to the pasta. Add some salt to the boiling water and drop the pasta in. If at any point the tomatoes get too dry, add some of the cooking water from the pasta.
Two minutes before the time indicated on the packet, drain the pasta, but make sure to keep a bit of the cooking water!
Put the pasta back in the pan with the little bit of cooking water. Add the tomatoes and aubergine. If it seems a bit dry, add a bit more cooking water.
Leave this to cook for the two remaining minutes, mixing all the ingredients together.
Serve onto plates. Shave some cheese on top. This is the moment to add some fresh basil leaves if you have them. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have any Italian wine to serve with this quintessential dish. However, I’d just made an order to replenish my stock, from a site that you all know and love 😉 From the Must-have selection, I picked out Sassicaia’s little cousin, Le Difese, an indulgent Sangiovese. And I’m sure we’ll be fighting over the delicious 2002 Bandol from Domaine Tempier that we found in a cupboard. This beautiful cuvée has aromas straight from the south that blend the power of Mourvèdre with the characteristic elegance of this domain wonderfully. The tannins are amazingly soft.
And if a little cultural complement takes your fancy, listen to the Casta Diva aria from Bellini’s opera, Norma, sung by La Callas or by Cecilia Bartoli. It brings together the whole experience in perfect harmony.
Thank you to Olimpia for this marvellous recipe! Buon appetito!
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