Pasta alla Norma
There is no restaurant in Sicily that does not feature “pasta alla Norma” with fried melanzana (aubergine-eggplant), tomatoes and shaving of salty ricotta on its menu. From Michelin star versions to traditional trattoria style recipes and home-made grandma's secret touch, everyone in the region loves this dish.
But what does Norma mean and where does this recipe get the name from?
Norma is one of Catania's opera master Vincenzo Bellini greatest succes and is the name of the female protagonist. Even if you are not an opera fan, you have certainly come accross the 'Casta Diva' aria, most probably in Maria Callas' version. In fact, Bellini's masterpiece is regarded as a leading example of the bel canto genre and one of the most famous of the nineteenth century.
How did we go from opera to pasta? The story goes that in Catania, after Bellini's friends saw the opera, they were so impressed that they started comparing anything great to their friend's opera, if something was excellent it was said to be "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 melanzana (aubergine-eggplant), tomato sauce, basil and the salted ricotta shaved over the top. You can either serve it with big slices of fried melanzana on top, or dice it in stick or cubes.
Cut the eggplant into cubes or sticks leaving the peel on and lightly salt. Leave them to draw out excess water on a colander. Then wash them and dry well. Add the peanut oil in a frying pan and deep fry. Set aside on kitchen paper.
Sauté a garlic clove in a pan with extra virgin olive oil, then add the tomato sauce, a pinch of salt, a couple of basil leaves, and let it simmer on a low heat for about 20 minutes.
Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water till al dente. Drain it, then return to the pan stirring in the sauce and add more basil. Salt the fried melanzana and places it on the pasta before serving it with shaves of ricotta salata. (If you cannot find dry salted ricotta, use grated parmesan cheese.)