Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Salting time for the eggplants: at least 1 hour (depending on size)
The traditional Sicilian eggplant and pasta dish was rechristened "spaghetti alla Norma" in tribute to Bellini, born in Catania. There are two stories to explain the name.
The first holds that a Sicilian chef was so taken by Bellini's opera Norma that, upon returning to his kitchen, he invented this dish in which sliced eggplant, tomato sauce and ricotta salata are combined with pasta.
The second - and more likely - story is that Bellini's compatriots, inspired by the beauty of his opera, invented a new superlative, una vera Norma (a real Norma), used to praise the excellence of a product or action. A few years passed and the author Nino Martaglio, tasting this regional specialty for the first time, was enraptured, renaming it Spaghetti alla Norma. Whatever the origin, the recipe has remained as simple and delicious as it was then.
- Cut off the ends of the eggplants and slice them thinly, leaving the skin on.
- Place them on paper towels, sprinkle with salt and leave for an hour to two to exude their liquid. *If you are using young eggplants with few seeds, it is not necessary to salt them.
- Pat the eggplants dry to remove most of the salt. Flour lightly - this keeps them from soaking up too much oil.
- Fry the eggplant slices in hot oil for about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to paper towels, then set aside in a warm oven without covering them so they stay crisp.
- While the eggplants are exuding their liquid, prepare the tomato sauce: blanch the tomatoes for 1-2 minutes in boiling water so they are easier to peel. Remove the stem ends and cut into wedges.
- Sweat the onions and garlic in 2 tbsp. oil. Add the tomatoes and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- When the sauce has thickened, put it through a food mill or blender. Return the sauce to the pan; reduce for 5 minutes more.
- Cook the pasta in boiling water with a pinch of salt. Drain when al dente.
- In a fairly deep skillet, reheat the pasta in the sauce for a minute so that it is well coated.
- Divide the pasta among wide-rimmed bowls; add the crumbled ricotta salata, basil and fried eggplant. Serve immediately. Buon appetito!
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