This divine Sicilian pasta dish often elicits the question: Who is Norma? Theories abound, and one of them is that the dish was named in honor of Bellini, a native of Catania, Sicily. Bellini's opera "Norma" was so popular with his compatriots, that it inspired the creation of a new superlative - una vera Norma - to sing praise of any good deed or object. Years later, the author Nino Martaglio tasted this traditional dish from Sicily and was so delighted by it that he called in Spaghetti alla Norma. You will agree that this dish is una vera Norma.
Sicilian-Style Pasta with Eggplant, Tomatoes, Basil and Ricotta - Spaghetti alla Norma
1 large firm eggplant (aubergine)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
I small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 28 oz./800 g. can Italian plum tomatoes
2 teaspoons dried oregano
Pinch of sugar
1 lb./500 g. dried spaghetti
1/2 cup shaved Ricotta Salata or Pecorino Romano cheese, plus extra for garnish
Handful fresh basil leaves
Fresh buffalo mozzarella, cut in slivers
Prepare the eggplant:
Trim ends. Cut horizontally in 1/4" slices. Arrange in one layer on baking tray. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill in oven, turning once, until browned and softened. Remove. Cut the slices in thirds. Set aside.
Prepare tomato sauce:
Heat two tablespoons olive oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until it begins to give off juices, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and sauté one minute. Add tomatoes with juices and oregano. Simmer 10 minutes, stirring to break up tomatoes. Add sugar. Stir in eggplant slices and simmer additional 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add spaghetti and cook until al dente. Drain. Return spaghetti to pot and add eggplant mixture. Add 1/2 cup ricotta salata. Toss to combine. Serve garnished with fresh basil leaves, slivers of buffalo mozzarella cheese and extra ricotta salata.