Pasta Salad Alla Norma

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Finish - Norma with script

Buon giorno!

One of the classic Sicilian pasta dishes is the famous Pasta Alla Norma. There are many variations of this dish mainly consisting of eggplant, tomatoes, and Ricotta Salata Cheese along with some hot pepper flakes.  It is a personal favorite of mine which made me curious about how it might be if one were to serve it as a pasta salad at room temperature with a few additional touches – and thus we have PASTA SALAD ALLA NORMA.

Before we dive into the recipe, it is probably a good idea to answer a question first: Who exactly is Norma and why does she get a pasta dish named for her? Norma was the tragic heroine of Vincenzo Bellini’s opera of the same name. This opera and character was so revered in the 19th century by the Sicilian people that they named a pasta dish for her. The opera is heavy on the melodrama including much about fire and funeral pyres – thus the inclusion of hot pepper flakes in the dish.

This rendition is more of a room temperature pasta salad including all of the classically required ingredients and the addition of a couple of extras like the famous Sicilian olive called Castelvetrano after a Sicilian town in the province of Trapani. You might know these olives by their absolutely brilliant and vivid green color – almost a blue green. They are gorgeous, mild, and fruity. I just love them and include them in cooking because of their mildness and extraordinary color. They contribute to giving this dish its gorgeous presentation.

Add in some red wine vinegar and pignoli nuts – and you end up with some “wow”!

This is a really flavorful dish. My husband who likes meat in everything makes a couple of exceptions and this is one of them. He just loves it!

Traditionally Pasta Alla Norma calls for shaved Ricotta Salata – a solid salty ricotta cheese which I suggest here. However, if you can’t find it, a nice Pecorino will fill the bill.

Let’s get on with it, as I can hear Norma wailing at the pyre now – and it is hard on the ears!!

 

PASTA SALAD ALLA NORMA

Serves: 4

Prep: 30 minutes

Cook: 25-30 minutes

Ingredients

1 lb. Cooked Pasta (I like a chunky pasta for this like Ziti, Mezza Rigatoni, Strozzapreti, Fusilli Pugliese, Penne etc.)

2 Cups Cherry Tomatoes, Early Girl Tomatoes, or Campari Tomatoes – cut

4 Cups Sliced and Cut Eggplant as shown in photo (peeled or unpeeled)

1 Cup Olive Oil

2 Cloves Fresh Garlic chopped finely

1/3 Cup Chopped Italian Parsley

1/4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar

1/4 Tsp. Red Pepper Flakes

Salt and Pepper to taste

1/3 Cup Pignoli Nuts (pine nuts)

1 1/2 Cups Pitted Castelvetrano Olives

Shaved Ricotta Salata Cheese ( you can substitute Pecorino if needed)

Drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Instructions

Cook the pasta according to package directions.

You can press your eggplant a couple of hours ahead if you like to rid it of any bitterness. Do this by slicing it and layering between paper towels. Then put some heavy weight on top. After a couple of hours, discard the paper towels and proceed with the eggplant as suggested.

Norma 1

Choose some gorgeous ripe sweet tomatoes for this. These are “Early Girls”.

Norma 2

Mix the tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, parsley, red pepper flakes together in a bowl.

Pour olive oil and vinegar over the top of the above, add salt and pepper, and mix gently.

Pour onto a baking pan and roast at 400 degrees for about 20-25 minutes or until the eggplant is fork tender and to your liking.

Norma 3

Add the olives and the pignoli and gently toss.

Pour all of this over the cooked pasta immediately along with any juices in the pan. Mix together.

Top with shaved Ricotta Salata or Pecorino Cheese.

Add a drizzle of a nice peppery extra virgin olive oil.

Serve your PASTA SALAD ALLA NORMA at room temperature or cold, if you like, as your main course or as a beautiful side dish with a nice bottle of Sicilian red – like a Nero D’Avola.

PARLA COME MANGI!

  Comments are welcome in the “Speak Your Mind Area” beneath this post online.

LINDA’S ITALIAN TABLE

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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography

 

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Pasta Alla Norma — Or Not?

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Buon Giorno!

Pasta alla Norma is one of the most tried and traditional of Italian pasta recipes. It is considered to be a Sicilian dish and one of much fame and discussion. Given my rather capricious nature, I have tweaked this Sicilian recipe to favor my taste and whim. Thus, today, we explore Pasta Not So Norma!

So the story goes, Vincenzo Bellini, the brilliant and prolific composer of operas, created his famous work, “Normabased on a French story of a tragic heroine in two acts. Several Druids and high priestesses later, our heroine, Norma mounts a funeral pyre and is joined by her love, Pollione. The role of Norma is said to be very challenging even for the most accomplished of divas. It was the signature role of Maria Callas who performed it over 40 times during her career and showcased the lilting Casta Diva,( <click here to experience her memorable rendition)one of the most famous Italian operatic pieces. Sicilians in the 19th century so loved this opera and the pasta dish we discuss today, that the two became entwined forever.

Traditionally, Pasta alla Norma is made with a combination of fried eggplant, tomatoes, basil and some hot pepper, topped with shavings of the sharp and lovely Ricotta Salata.

I have seen this dish all sorts of ways including an interesting deconstructed version that was presented in a series of layers of the ingredient almost like a lasagna. I much prefer the ingredients combined as they seem to intensify the flavor of the sauce as they touch and mingle reaching a fantastic crescendo of intensity – a rather sexy dish!

My Pasta Not So Norma has a similar mix of ingredients with something more! There is nothing subtle or mild about this pasta. It has plenty of flavor which seems to increase when made a day ahead. Do we love that? Troppo Bella!

A note about eggplant: I know there are different notions about whether or not to press or salt eggplant to remove any bitterness. My recommendation is to always press your eggplant unless you are using a very mild or baby variety, and there are several – such as the beautiful Rosa Bianca pictured here. This eggplant, an heirloom variety very common in Italy, is sweet, tender, creamy tasting and would not need pressing.

Also see the more familiar “Black Beauty”, your average garden variety eggplant, shown here which can be found at any grocer. The “Black Beauty” is my choice for this recipe, as I prefer a stronger eggplant for this longer cooking sauce consisting of multiple ingredients.

A word about pressing eggplant to remove any bitter flavor: My mother, Loretta, used to slice her eggplant and layer it with paper towels in a baking dish or casserole topped with a plate. She would then put an iron or heavy cans of tomatoes on top to weight it down or press it. She left it to press overnight – Then the next day all of the bitter juices transferred to the paper towels leaving sweet eggplant slices.

 

I still use the pressing method as described here, but I have found that pressing for about 2-3 hours is enough. Some cooks choose not to press the eggplant. However, it seems a bit risky in that we never know how much bitterness the eggplant may contain. My results are always reliable when I press, and it’s so easy.

At this point, I suggest turning on that CD of Norma with Maria Callas pining away as you prepare your ingredients. Nothing like a good aria and a tragic figure going up in flames to help ignite your appetite, turn up the heat, and get those creative juices flowing.

PASTA NOT SO NORMA

Serves: 4

Prep: 20 minutes + time to press eggplant if needed

Cook: about 50 minutes

3 cloves chopped garlic

3 tbsp. olive oil

4 oz. pancetta chopped

1 green pepper chopped

1 Medium onion chopped

1 Medium Eggplant chopped into cubes – whether or not to skin the eggplant is your choice. (Press eggplant sliced thickly for a few hours or overnight – then chop)

1 28 oz can San Marzano Peeled Tomatoes preferred

1 tsp Kosher salt – more to your taste

Freshly ground black pepper

At least ½ c. chopped fresh basil (can also use parsley instead for a little different flavor)

2 Tbsp. Fresh Oregano ( if dried use less)

¾ c. pitted Kalamata, Cerignola Green or Gaeta Olives sliced in ½ (if using Gaetas – you might want to use a little less salt in the sauce)

1/2 to 1 tsp Red Pepper Flakes – adding the heat reminiscent of Norma’s demise (according to your taste as to how much fire you prefer!)

Ricotta Salata or Pecorino Romano cheese shaved or grated

1 lb Fusilli Pugliese or Rigatoni

Make your sauce a day ahead!

Saute garlic in oil in a deep fry pan or pot for a couple of minutes – then add pancetta.

Cook for a couple of minutes until it crisps up; add onion, green pepper and eggplant. Cook til tender – about 8 minutes. When you first add the vegetables to the pan, it will look like a lot, but will reduce and cook down.

Crush your tomatoes with clean hands or a knife and fork and add tomatoes with juices to the vegetables.

Crushing the tomatoes this way keeps them a little chunkier than if canned crushed tomatoes are used.

Add red pepper flakes, basil, oregano, salt, black pepper and stir. Cover and simmer for about 40 minutes, adding the olives in the last 5 minutes of cooking. Give it a stir occasionally.

To serve: I like this sauce over Fusilli Pugliese (small rolled strands of pasta from the Puglia Region of Italy) or Rigatoni. I serve this dish in shallow bowls topped with coarsely grated or shaved Ricotta Salata or Pecorino Romano – sharp cheeses suited for spicy sauces.

Usually, this serves 4 with a pound of pasta. There will be plenty of sauce – so if serving 6, the sauce should accomodate – just increase your pasta amount to 1 1/2 lbs.

My daughter, Jessica, likes to put diced Fresh Buffalo Mozzarella on this when it is very hot along with the other cheeses.

Wine: Barbera d’Alba – I particularly like the Mauro Sebaste Barbera d’Alba Santa Rosalia. The perfect accompaniment to this dish.

PARLA COME MANGI!

Reminder: Be sure to visit my website,Linda’s Italian Table, for the new Recipe Of The Month!

Food Photos by Tommy Hanks Photography

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