You may read the ingredients and think, “I love eggplant, yes!” or you may think, “yeah, pass, I don’t eat eggplant.” If you’re thinking the latter, let me urge you to give this one a try because the eggplant melts into the sauce and gives the dish a mellow earthy flavor and silky, Moorish texture that I’m sure you will love. I myself am in the eggplant-lovers camp, and this has become a household favorite, it’s also a completely plant-based recipe if you don’t’ add any cheese. Pasta a la Norma can be prepared with any pasta, the recipes I used to develop my own both called for spaghetti, and when I ate this in Sicily, it was served with Penne. I recently found a Spelt Rigatini at my grocery store, and we loved the texture and how the noodles grabbed hold of the sauce. Bonus, my kinds loved this dish too – truly! If you don’t believe me, watch the video below for proof.
3 eggplants (900g) 120ml olive oil
4 banana shallots, chopped 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced 1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
2 x 400g tins of plum tomatoes 5 large oregano sprigs
2 tablespoons honey
350g rigatoni 45g mature pecorino romano (or ricotta salata), shaved 20g basil leaves, torn salt & black pepper
Method Preheat the oven to 220C fan. Using a peeler and working from top to bottom of each aubergine, shave off long alternating strips of peel so that they look striped, like zebras. Cut along the width of the aubergine to get 1cm thick slices and place in a bowl with 75ml of oil, 3/4 teaspoon of salt and a generous grind of paper. Mix well, then spread out on two large baking paper-lined trays. Roast for 30-35 minutes, until dark golden-brown.
While the aubergine cooks, prepare you sauce. In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over a medium-high heat. Add the garlic, shallots and chili and fry for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, until the garlic is golden brown (but not burnt!). Add the tinned tomatoes, oregano, honey, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a generous grind of pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes, until the sauce is thick. Remove the oregano sprigs and stir in the aubergine. Reduce heat to low and keep warm until ready to serve.
Cook the pasta according to packet instructions and once al dente, drain and retain some cooking water. Add the pasta to the sauce and mix well, adding two thirds of the pecorino and basil, add a few tablespoons of the cooking water if the sauce has become too thick. Divide between four bowls, then top with the remaining pecorino and basil.