Pasta alla Norma

I know things can get pretty crazy around the holiday season with lots of commitments.  This pasta is so easy, filling and crowd pleasing that you can squeeze it in between parties and decorating.  Pasta alla Norma is a pretty classic Italian dish but of course I have taken my own liberties with it.  Traditionally it includes eggplant, tomato and ricotta salata, which is a dried kind of ricotta (the texture is sort of like feta but drier).  Years ago I saw a great trick in Fine Cooking magazine about using the microwave to par cook eggplant so that it doesn’t soak up so much oil when you are cooking it.  I use it here and I really recommend trying it.  It also eliminates the need to salt eggplant, a sort of old fashioned method of pulling water out of the eggplant so that it isn’t so spongey.  To make sure this passed the Patrick test I added some meat to it in the form of “prosciutto chips.”  You crisp prosciutto up on the oven and then sprinkle it on almost like bacon bits – these are also delicious on salads.  I am so confident in this dish and it’s ability to please the masses that it was the first thing I ever cooked for my future in laws.  We were all staying in a house in rural Ireland and I knew not only would I be able to find all the equipment I would need to make it and the ingredients at the tiny grocery store but also that it would be a hit.  I am part of the family now so something must have worked!!

Pasta alla Norma (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  quick dinner for the whole family
Special Equipment:  coffee filters

  • 2 eggplants, diced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4-5 slices of prosciutto (optional)
  • 4 shallots, sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 14 ounces crushed tomatoes
  • 1 pound of shells or other short cut pasta
  • 1 ounce ricotta salata

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees,  Take the diced eggplant and toss it with the salt.  Cut the coffee filters so they will lay flat and line a plate with them.

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Use enough to hold all the eggplant, about 2 or 3.  Pop the plate into the microwave and cook at high for 10 minutes, tossing once at the 5 minute mark.  The eggplant will look shriveled like below – that’s a good thing.  Set aside.

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While the eggplant is cooking lay the prosciutto slices (if using) on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.  When they come out of the oven they should have dried out and been made into lovely ham chips.  Crumble and set aside.

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Add 1 tablespoon of oil to a skillet and sweat out the shallot, garlic and fennel seeds over medium heat for 3-4 minutes.  Boil a pot of water and start cooking the pasta.  Add the eggplant and cook for 2 minutes more.  Add the crushed tomato and cook for 5 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld and the sauce to cook down a little.  When the pasta is done toss it in the skillet with the sauce then transfer to a serving bowl and shave or crumble the ricotta salata on top along with the prosciutto chips if using.

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Pasta alla Norma

  • Servings: 4
  • Print

Special Equipment:  coffee filters

  • 2 eggplants, diced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4-5 slices of prosciutto (optional)
  • 4 shallots, sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 14 ounces crushed tomatoes
  • 1 pound of shells or other short cut pasta
  • 1 ounce ricotta salata

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees,  Take the diced eggplant and toss it with the salt.  Cut the coffee filters so they will lay flat and line a plate with them.  Use enough to hold all the eggplant, about 2 or 3.  Pop the plate into the microwave and cook at high for 10 minutes, tossing once at the 5 minute mark.  While the eggplant is cooking lay the prosciutto slices (if using) on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.  When they come out of the oven they should have dried out and been made into lovely ham chips.  Crumble and set aside.  Add 1 tablespoon of oil to a skillet and sweat out the shallot, garlic and fennel seeds over medium heat for 3-4 minutes.  Boil a pot of water and start cooking the pasta.  Add the eggplant and cook for 2 minutes more.  Add the crushed tomato and cook for 5 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld and the sauce to cook down a little.  When the pasta is done toss it in the skillet with the sauce then transfer to a serving bowl and shave or crumble the ricotta salata on top along with the prosciutto chips if using.

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