This is another pasta dish that I absolutely LOVE! Hailing from Sicily, this dish was named after Vincenzo Bellini’s opera ‘Norma‘. Norma could also be referred to as a superlative in Italian meaning ‘fantastic‘ and this dish is everything of that description.
I made a batch of my own marinara sauce for this pasta theme week. I posted about it before and if you’re interested to know the recipe you can click on the link below the picture.
Click here for the recipe
Penne alla Norma has four main ingredients; the pasta, the sauce, aubergine or eggplant and cheese. Although the pure form of Norma would be to sprinkle ricotta salata at the end, many have resorted to feta instead for they have similar texture. I didn’t have either so I just used my trusty Parmesan. I pray the Italian chefs won’t be rolling in their graves for what I’ve done.
Although I know aubergine and eggplant are just two different ways of saying the same thing but I always associate aubergine as the much larger and fatter type. And that is the type of eggplant you need for this dish. Not the long Asian ones we normally stir-fry or put in curries.
You need aubergines that are big enough for you to make thick slices (pic above). I suppose in matters of taste, the Asian types might not be far off but the big aubergines are a better preference for this dish.
This is one pasta dish I would make again and again and again, much to the chagrin of my hubby because it’s all vegetable again. 😉 As I was writing this, I was just pondering back on my childhood. Us kids must’ve been quite troublesome to our mother. I remember that as a kid I wouldn’t even touch, let alone consume an eggplant. Food that I love today weren’t my favourites before; mushrooms, curries, calamari, nasi lemak, yam, tong sui…..much too spoilt for choice then. I suppose if I never left home, my palate would still be….for lack of a better word…‘unenlightened’.
PENNE ALLA NORMA RECIPE
2 large aubergines
Roasted red peppers, sliced into strips (optional)
3 garlic cloves, chopped
Basil leaves, chiffonade
Grated parmesan / crumbled feta or ricotta
1. Rid the aubergine of its stem top. Slice it into round thick slices like what you see in the picture. Arrange them on a rather large colander, stacking them up on top of each other. When you arrange the first layer, salt the top with sea salt. Repeat the same, salting the slices all the way to the top. Place the colander on a bigger bowl.
2. Place a plate that is a size smaller than the colander on top. Place something heavy on the plate to weigh it down. I normally use my heavy mortar for this task. Let it sit for 30 mins. The salt would’ve extracted all the excess moisture from the aubergines and get rid of any bitterness.
3. While this is going on, cook your penne in salted boiling water. After 30 mins, remove aubergines and place them on tea towels. Pat them dry with kitchen paper. Slice up the aubergines into strips.
4. Heat a frying pan with olive oil and fry the aubergine slices. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.
5. With the remaining oil in the pan, sautee the garlic and add your marinara sauce. Taste first if it needs further seasoning. Because I used pre-made marinara sauce, it already had a lot of flavour. But if you’re making the sauce there and then, you need to check for seasoning.
6. Bring the fried aubergines and roasted red pepper slices back to the sauce. Incorporate. Chiffonade some basil leaves and add it to the last second.
7. Drain your cooked penne but do not rinse. Pour it back to the pot. Pour the sauce and the aubergines to the penne. Toss it around till all the penne is coated with the sauce.
8. Plate and sprinkle some Parmesan on top. Eat while it’s warm.