In his home town - Catania - Vincenzo Bellini is as much remembered for the pasta dish named after his most famous heroine as for his music and there cannot be a Catania restaurant that does not feature “pasta alla Norma” on its menu.
The story goes that when Vincenzo’s friends saw the opera, they were so impressed that they went around calling everything that was excellent "una vera Norma" [“a real Norma”] and the epithet stuck when it was used to describe this dish.
There are many versions of “pasta alla Norma” but the main ingredients are aubergines and the salted ricotta that is sprinkled over the top. Spaghetti are often used but I like to make the dish with penne pasta. Here is the recipe that works for me.
2 aubergines; coarse seasalt;
c. half pint olive oil [You may need more as aubergines really soak it up. You can use half sunflower or groundnut oil if you wish, but it will change the taste.];
1 pint good, preferably homemade tomato sauce containing garlic;
12 oz spaghetti, penne rigate or fusilli;
4 - 6 oz salted ricotta, grated;
about a teacupful fresh basil leaves, chopped roughly.
Cut the unpeeled aubergines into rounds about half inch thick or into fairly thick sticks. Mary Taylor Simeti says the first way of slicing them is alla palermitana
and the second the way of eastern Sicilians. [I chose the first.] Put them into a colander, sprinkle with plenty of salt, put a plate on top, pressing it down, and leave to drain for about an hour and a half. Rinse well, drain and dry the slices on kitchen paper.
Heat the oil and fry the slices until softened and golden brown all over. Let them drain on kitchen paper. Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water till al dente. Drain, return to the pan and quickly stir in the sauce, basil and about half the grated ricotta. Transfer the mixture into a serving dish and arrange the aubergine slices on top.
Sprinkle the rest of the grated ricotta over, plus a few shavings.