Friday, July 30, 2010

Pasta alla Norma - Norma's rigatoni (SICILY)

Another classic Sicilian recipe, this time from the city of Catania. Norma is the protagonist of one of the most beautiful operas by Bellini, who was in fact born in Catania. This dish happens to be one of the favorites of the famous police inspector Montalbano, created by the imagination of the writer Andrea Camilleri (easily available in English translation- highly recommended). In fact, I always think of it whenever I am reading one of his gripping crime novels.

The classic recipe has but very few ingredients: tomatoes (commonly canned 'pelati', or skinned whole tomatoes), fried eggplant, and 'ricotta salata' cheese - a dry cheese that is obtained after partially de-hydrating ricotta by salting. I have troubles finding good ricotta salata, so I use a good quality mozzarella instead (made of buffalo milk when I can find it). Moreover, I happened to have at hand very ripe, very sweet heirloom tomatoes so I made my base 'al pomodoro fresco' i.e. using fresh tomatoes rather than canned. As always, try making this dish in the summer, when real tasty eggplant/aubergine and tomatoes can be sourced from the farmer's market.

Preparation: fry the cubed eggplant in olive oil until golden and crispy (2-3 min.), set aside. While the pasta is boiling, fry for a few seconds a couple of garlic cloves with a couple of dry Italian chilies, then add the roughly chopped tomatoes, salt, pepper and taste - if your tomatoes are not completely ripe a very small pinch of sugar can be added to balance excessive acidity. Cook down for a few minutes. Finally, toss the 'al dente' pasta with the tomato sauce, add a few fresh basil leaves and top with the fried eggplant and with grated ricotta salata or small cubes of mozzarella just before serving.

Buon appetito!

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