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Sicilian-Style Trennette with Eggplant, Olives, and Ricotta Salata

Updated February 23, 2016

This pasta is based on Sicily’s most famous pasta, pasta alla Norma, which is spaghetti with tomato sauce, eggplant, and ricotta salata. In Sicily, they say that the pasta looks like Mount Etna: the high mound of spaghetti is the mountain, the fried eggplant cubes in the tomato sauce are the lava rocks, and the ricotta salata grated over the top is the snow that caps the mountain almost year-round. Ricotta salata literally translates to “salted ricotta.” The cheese is conserved in salt, then aged until it is hard. Its firm texture and pungent, salty flavor make it ideal for grating over pasta. I use whole canned cherry tomatoes in this recipe instead of tomato sauce because I like their look and texture. In Sicily, they wouldn’t think of making this dish with any pasta except spaghetti, but I use trennette, a short hollow pasta shape—like penne, only with flat sides—because I think it’s easier to eat with the tomatoes and eggplant. If you can’t find trennette, penne or pennette (“little penne”) will work fine. And if you’re a purist, use spaghetti.

Serves4

Cooking Time30 min

Cooking Time - Text30

Cooking Methodsauteeing

CostModerate

Moderate

Total Timeunder 30 minutes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Cooking for a date

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationvegetarian

Mealdinner

Taste and Texturecheesy, garlicky, herby, savory

Type of Dishdry pasta

Ingredients

  • Kosher salt
  • 8 ounces trennette or pennette pasta
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 large garlic cloves, grated or minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 14-ounce can cherry San Marzano tomatoes, drained (about 1½ cups)
  • 7 ounces drained roasted eggplant or fried eggplant, cut into 1-inch pieces if large (about 1 cup)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 28 small pitted black olives
  • 1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • Wedge of ricotta salata, for grating

Instructions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and add a generous amount of kosher salt. Stir in the trennette, return the water to a boil, and cook the pasta, stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking together, until it's al dente. (Since cooking times vary, refer to the package instructions for the recommended time and taste the pasta for doneness frequently while it cooks.)

While the water is coming to a boil and the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil, garlic, and a pinch of kosher salt in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until the garlic is soft and fragrant, about 1½ minutes, stirring constantly so the garlic doesn't brown. Turn the heat up to high, add the tomatoes and eggplant and smash the eggplant with a wooden spoon. Cook them just until the ingredients are warmed through, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, keeping in mind the olives and ricotta salata will add salt to the dish.

Drain the pasta and transfer it quickly, while it's still dripping with water, to the skillet with the tomatoes and eggplant. Place the skillet over high heat and toss the pasta with the sauce for a minute or two, until the pasta is coated and the sauce is warm.

Spoon the pasta out of the skillet and pile it into high mounds on four plates, dividing it evenly. Sprinkle it with the olives and oregano and using a microplane, grate a generous amount of ricotta salata over each serving.

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