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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Back At It

So this happened...I finally got the inspiration back to write about the food I've been preparing for my family. Don't ask what's taken so long - I truly haven't a clue. I suppose it's the three kids, work and the household chores that have weighed me down and made me lose my interest in writing. But recently I have been itching to get back to it and this weekend was filled with cooking - for the Jewish Holiday of Rosh Hashanah - and with the last two days off from work, I had a little time and decided to leap back into the process. 

Inspired by the beautiful food we grew this summer, along with the most incredible trip we took - to Sicily - I longed for Pasta alla Norma - a pasta dish we ate several times near Catania. This dish is rich and velvety and has hidden gems inside the sauce. It's a favorite daughter of Sicily's east coast and is slightly varied throughout the area. So with an abundance of homegrown eggplant and basil staring at me, it was time to dive in and recreate this lovely dish!

While there are a few steps and ingredients for this dish, it is not an intimidating one. All of the ingredients are accessible and can be procured easily. I recommendation using the very best ingredients you can find (the best olive oil, the best salt, the freshest vegetables, etc). That seems to be the secret to excellent Italian cooking - simple and fresh.

My kids don't care for eggplant but they just pushed it aside. The sauce was silky and sweet and the flavors were so simple yet complex. I highly recommend this and if you want to create - or recreate - a Sicilian experience, this would be the dish to try!

Pasta Alla Norma

1lb. pasta - a large one, like a ziti shape, with ridges
2 medium/large eggplant, cut into small cubes (about 2 lbs).
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 medium garlic, finely chopped
24 oz. tomato passata (sauce)
1 tsp. Red pepper flakes 
1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup whole milk ricotta cheese 
1/3 cup grated pecorino romano
4 oz. grated whole milk mozzarella
1/4 cup pignoli nuts 

Place cut eggplant into a strainer in the sink and sprinkle with salt. Allow it to sit an hour. Rinse, gently, with cold water and drain well - and pat dry - with paper towels.

Preheat oven to 400. Prepare a baking tray with a piece of parchment paper and brush with 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. Spread dried eggplant onto the sheet, roll it in the oil and roast for about 25 minutes. 

In a large, heavy, sauté pan, heat remaining oil, about 1/2 tablespoon salt and red pepper flakes (about 1/2 teaspoon) over medium-high heat for about 1 - 2 minutes. Add in the garlic and sauté another minute. Pour in the sauce and pour water halfway into the bottle to dislodge the remaining sauce from the bottle  and pour it into the pan. Bring the sauce to a boil and constantly stir.

Meanwhile, bring water to a boil for a full pound of pasta. Salt the water and cook the pasta according to directions. 

After about 10 minutes, add in the sugar and half the basil into the sauce. Stir well and continue to cook over medium-high heat, sauce will thicken.

Drain pasta - but reserve about 1 cup of cooking liquid, in case sauce is too thick and you need a little liquid to thin it.

In a large serving dish, pour 3/4 of the sauce over the cooked pasta. Add in 3/4 of the eggplant, more basil, the grated Parmesan, and the ricotta. Mix well. Sprinkle with remaining basil, grated mozzarella, remaining eggplant and the pignoli nuts.


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