Souvenirs from Sicily: Easy Pasta alla Norma
Here is my version of an easy pasta alla Norma that you can cook in under 30 minutes. My way to make my Sicily holiday last longer. Or put it on repeat a couple days a week!
A real Sicilian classic
Pasta alla Norma is a very easy vegetarian pasta dish. It dates back to 19th Century Catania and the Opera “Norma” by Vicenzo Bellini. Aubergines and tomatoes grow in abundance in Sicily. If you happen to go to a a market, try to buy some tomatoes or dried tomatoes. Small cherry tomatoes are the best. I also picked up a bag of “Norma” spice mix and a few batches of salted capers. The tomatoes last about a year in a dark airtight containers. And I am currently using up capers I bought in 2016… But you can make this pasta without bringing any souvenirs from Sicily whatsoever!
Admission: I never actually ordered pata alla Norma while in Sicily. I tried a few other local pasta dishes, such as “Aeolian Style” casarecce with tuna, capers and tomato sause, topped with local cheese, spaghetti con le sarde and last not least the simple but delicious “boat pasta” en route to Filicudi. But the Norma recipe was so appealing, and the first thing I cooked back home.
I work full time and sometimes into the evening, so my weekday dinners have to be fast and easy. There are lots of recipes of pasta alla Norma already, and for inspiration, I love to read the Guardian series on “How to cook the perfect (insert dish here)”. So I made my version here, and, prep included, this takes me 30 minutes. For good measure, here is the Ottolenghi recipe, also from the Guardian.As much as I love Ottolenghi recipes, I recoil at the thought of tinned tomatoes, though, although in these times when a sneezy contact can send you into quarantine, I would certainly try them if I had nothing else.
What you need for two portions
250g of pasta (I’m a spaghetti fan and use de Cecco spaghetti, but penne, maccharoni, bucatini are also going with tradition)
2 handfuls of fresh tomatoes
2-3 teaspoons of capers (I use salted ones)
a few garlic cloves – I use 4-8 depending on whether its a school night
olive oil (use olive oilt for frying which has a higher smoke point)
Norma spices: sniff test of my mix and some online research conclude oregano, basil, dried chilies and a whiff of thyme. I add a fresh chili if I have them, and some fresh basil leaves at the end.
a good squeeze of tomato paste
Ricotta salata. Its a Sicilian cheese – not easy to come by but its usually vegetarian. I find it works well in a vegan version without the cheese, or you can flake a bit of mozzarella, parmesan or Gran Padano (not vegetarian!) on it
Cooking Pasta Alla Norma
First I heat my oil in the frying pan and dice the aubergine into 1cm chunks.I never bother with salting and leaving for 30mins. I fry the aubergines in a little oil at medium heat.
While the aubergines are frying, I prepare everything else: gather my spices, chop the chili, peel and slice the garlic, quarter the tomatoes…
Once the aubergines are cooked, I put the pasta in boiling water, then let the aubergines rest and fry the garlic and chilies at low to medium heat until golden.
Then I add the tomatoes and capers, and after five minutes I add the tomato paste and spices. I stir well then add three big serving spoons of the pasta water, which should have starched up nicely, then stir again and let it simmer gently for 3-5minutes, to time it with the pasta being ready.
Then I drain the pasta, plate and spoon the sauce over it, add some black pepper and sometimes grated cheese. Eventually I will buy a larger casserole so I can stir in the pasta, which is the more traditional way I believe…
Pasta alle Norma – done in well under 30 minutes
So, this is pretty much my first (travel inspired) recipe post. I have a few healthy ones here that we used a lot during the “lockdown light” in March and April in Germany when we rarely ventured out to the supermarket yet wanted to eat healthily. I may write some more cooking posts, but my cooking is always straight and simple ans rather relying on the quality of ingredients and taking care not to kill them than any refined methods. I’m keen to make Jollof rice which will be a nice comfort winter dish. It was one of few dishes I could find in Ghana that usually did not contain meat, and it was Red-Red, jollof rice and loads of fruit.
Do you have a dish that you brought back from travels that you love and keep cooking?