Pasta alla Norma has become the unofficial signature dish of Sicily. Originally created in the city of Catania around the same time as Vincenzo Bellini’s romantic opera ‘Norma’, it is said that the pasta was created as a homage to the composer and to the opera. Another story tells of a talented home cook who served her creation to a group of gourmands and was duly christened at the table via the classic Sicilian compliment of Chista e na vera Norma (‘this is a real Norma’). Whatever the truth, the dish became an instant classic and its fame spread around the world.
2 firm aubergines, trimmed and cut into 2cm dice
150ml extra virgin olive oil
½ onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
a good handful of basil leaves
800g quality canned chopped tomatoes or passata
400g dried rigatoni
200g ricotta salata cheese, grated
Put the diced aubergines in a colander in the sink and sprinkle with salt. Leave to drain for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to its highest temperature, around 250°C/230°C fan/Gas Mark 10.
Rinse the aubergine in cold water and pat dry with a kitchen towel, then toss in a bowl with half the oil. Spread out on a baking tray, place in the oven and cook for 15–20 minutes or until caramelised, turning occasionally to make sure the pieces don’t dry out.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a medium saucepan over a medium heat and add the onion and garlic. Sauté for a couple of minutes, then add half the basil and the tomatoes. Bring to a simmer. Turn down the heat and cook gently for 23–30 minutes or until thickened (the exact time will depend on your canned tomato brand).
When the sauce is almost ready, cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water according to the packet instructions to al dente. Add the aubergine to the sauce. Drain the pasta (reserving a little of the cooking water) and toss in the sauce. If the sauce seems too thick, add some cooking water to loosen.
Divide among the plates and sprinkle with the ricotta and remaining basil leaves, roughly torn over the top. It’s best to allow this to cool slightly before eating.
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