When tomatoes first made their way to Sicily in the 1830s, locals used them to update traditional dishes like caponata (a Sicilian salad of eggplant, onions, and capers) and to give birth to some new ones, like pasta alla norma, which I translate as pasta the normal way, since it is so popular. Joking aside, the name comes from the opera, Norma, which was written by the Sicilian composer Vincenzo Bellini. This is another Sicilian dish, but since my mother made it for me when I was growing up, I consider it an honorary Tuscan one!
- 6 cups peeled diced eggplant
- 3 cups diced fresh tomatoes (no need to peel or seed)
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 5 torn fresh basil leaves, plus ¼ cup roughly chopped fresh basil leaves
- ½ cup flour
- 4-5 cups canola or peanut oil for frying
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 pound gemelli, or penne or other short pasta
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1 cup cubed fresh mozzarella
- 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1. Salt the eggplant liberally and put in colander to drain for 1 hour.
2. Toss the tomatoes with ½ cup of the olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and the 5 torn basil leaves. Set aside.
3. Dry the eggplant with paper towels and in a bowl toss with the flour.
4. Pour enough canola or peanut oil into a large skillet to come halfway up the sides of the pan. Heat to 375°F. on a candy thermometer. Add the eggplant and fry until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain well on paper towels. Set aside.
5. Discard the oil and wipe the skillet clean with a paper towel. Coat the bottom of the skillet with ¼ cup of the remaining olive oil. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and sauté until the garlic begins to color.
6. Add the tomatoes, 1 tablespoon of the chopped basil, and the oregano and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the fried eggplant and season with a pinch of salt.
7. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the gemelli or penne. Cook until the pasta is just under al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.
8. Add the pasta to the sauce with ½ cup of the reserved cooking water. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, adding more of the pasta water if the mixture is dry. Stir in the remaining basil, the parsley, mozzarella, and Parmesan.
9. When the mozzarella starts to melt, add 3 tablespoons of the remaining olive oil and stir until the cheese melts into the sauce. Serve immediately.