Saturday, September 20, 2008

Pasta alla Norma

Sicily is a largest region in Italy and has contributed much to Italian Cuisine that it is sometimes known as God's Kitchen.Pasta alla Norma is a traditional Sicilian Pasta dish named so after the Norma-heroine of Bellini's Opera of the same name.

Legend has it that the opera was so successful and the chef who saw it was so delighted that he concocted this dish using all the Sicilian regional specialities and blended it with pasta and to show its perfection named it Pasta alla Norma honouring the opera,the artist Bellini(born in Catania,Sicily) and the dish itself.Another version says that the successful opera created a new standard(una vera Norma or "A Real Norma")and this perfect dish was named so by Bellini's compatriot Nino Marthaglio.

The dish which uses eggplants,tomatoes and other flavourings and herbs available throughout Sicily and is blended with tubular pasta like Penne Rigate or even thin string Spaghetti, is widely popular in Sicily.Here is my version of Pasta alla Norma.


Ingredients:

Penne Rigatte: 2cup
Olive oil: 1 tbsp
Red Onion: 1 small
Garlic: 1 or 2 cloves crushed
Eggplants: 1 medium
Tomato Puree: 1/4 cup
Ricotta Cheese:1/4 cup
Fresh Basil Leaves:few
Salt:as per taste

Seasoning:
Dried thyme(optional):a pinch
Red Pepper Flakes(chilli flakes):1/2 tsp
Pepper:1/2 tsp

Ingredients in an assembly line...


Preparation:


Chop onions finely.Crush garlic and chop the eggplants into bite sized pieces.Salt the eggplant pieces and keep aside for 15 minutes.This is to remove their bitterness if any.Chop or snip basil and keep aside.

Heat olive oil and add garlic.Put the stove on simmer and slowly allow garlic to flavour the oil.Once it starts turning brown,switch off gas and remove the garlic and put the pan back to simmer.Add finely chopped onions and stirfry.Once they turn transparent,squeeze the salted eggplant carefully within your palms or using papper towels and add to the onions and stir fry till they are lightly browned and cooked through.Add tomato puree,little salt,pepper,red pepper flakes,small amount of chopped basil and dried thyme.Cook for a few more minutes until the tomatoes blend and raw smell disappears.Now your sauce is ready.


While the sauce is being cooked,cook the pasta as per the package instructions or until al dente(firm and not hard).Add the cooked pasta to the hot sauce and toss in little ricotta chese and mix it well together.

Garnish with remaining chopped basil and ricotta cheese,while serving.




In this version I have used only ricotta cheese and not the "Ricotta Salata" or salty,dried ricotta cheese available in Sicily.

I removed the garlic because I found that when allowed to remain in the hot pan for a long time it browns and adds bitterness to the dish.

You can use any other spices/herbs apart from red pepper flakes and thyme.

Also you can use chopped/crushed tomatoes rather than pureed ones.I used store-brought tomato puree as it reduces the cooking time and also imparts a smoother consistency.

Another version of the same pasta separately fries/roasts the eggplant and then adds it to the sauce.I find that this brings forward the individuality of the eggplant rather than blending with other ingredients whicle forming the sauce.So I stir fried the eggplant along with onion while making sauce.Some other versions I have referenced uses bacon,ham or even panchetta while forming the sauce.

I have used the vegetarian version of the dish which is traditional as well as simple and is also a hearty delightful meal.

Pasta alla Norma is not just another pasta.It is a classic that uses all the Sicilian ingredients (including olive oil) and also honours the great art culture of the region including the 19th century opera composer-Vincenzo Bellini and his classic opera-Norma.

So this dish makes its way to La Cucina Italiana hosted by Meeta of WhatsforLunchHoney

And also to Simona who is hosting Fresh Produce of the Month:Eggplant,an event started by Martha.

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