This simple vegetarian pasta is the national dish of Sicily. It probably originated in Catania in the 19th century and is reportedly named after the opera “Norma” by Vincenzo Bellini. It is traditionally served with ricotta salata, an aged, salted ricotta cheese popular in Sicily, but difficult to find in the U.S., pecorino Romano or Parmesan can be substituted.
- 1 large eggplant, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
- Marino Extra-Virgin Olive Oil as needed (at least 1/2 cup)
- Salt and pepper
- 1 large sweet onion, roughly chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 24-ounce can San Marzano or Sorrento tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon good dried oregano, or 1 tablespoon fresh
- A few pinches of red pepper flakes
- 1-pound pasta (penne, rigatoni, or bucatini)
- ½ cup chopped basil
- ½ cup grated ricotta salata (substitute pecorino Romano or Parmesan)
- Cook the eggplant in abundant olive oil, without crowding, sprinkling with salt and adding more oil as needed. Cook in batches until nicely browned and soft. Remove to a plate; do not drain on paper towels. Meanwhile, put a large pot of water to boil and salt it.
- When finished cooking the eggplant, reserve the oil and leave at least two tablespoons in the pan. Turn the heat to medium, add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes, add the garlic and cook until onions are transparent. Add the tomatoes and oregano, along with some salt and pepper; cook until saucy but not too dry, stirring occasionally. At this point the sauce can be transferred to a food processor and pulsed until blended.
- Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta (reserving the water) and toss it with the tomato sauce, gently fold in the eggplant and add pasta water as needed until the sauce is the desired consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then top with the basil and grated cheese and serve.