This dish, one of Sicily's most famous, is named after Bellini's 19th-century opera, Norma, which is widely considered the composer's best achievement. The final -- and most essential -- touch to Pasta alla Norma is a dusting of salted ricotta (ricotta salata). If you can't find ricotta salata, you can use Parmesan or caciocavallo -- but purists will point out that the flavor substitution isn't authentic.
Don't skimp when salting and frying the eggplant -- the result is a wonderful sauce with a creamy, melt-in-your-mouth texture. —Emiko
large eggplant (or 2 finger eggplants)
Salt, to taste
Olive oil for frying
garlic cloves, peeled and squashed
14-ounce (400 grams) can of chopped tomatoes
(320 grams) rigatoni, penne, or maccheroncini pasta
Cut the eggplant into 1/3-inch (1 centimeter) slices. If you're using a large eggplant, you may want to cut these in half too. Sprinkle salt generously over the eggplant and let sit for at least 30 minutes (but better 2 hours). Rinse the salt off and pat the eggplant slices completely dry with paper towels. Deep fry the eggplant in about an inch of olive oil until golden. Remove the eggplant with a slotted spoon and drain the excess oil on paper towels. Set aside until needed.
In the meantime, prepare a simple tomato sauce by gently heating 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet. Sauté the garlic cloves until fragrant but not colored. Add the tomato (it will spit and sizzle, watch out!) and about 1/2 cup of water, and season with salt and pepper. Let simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Towards the end, add the basil leaves and the fried eggplant. Remove from the heat.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a heavy pinch of salt and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta, saving a little of the cooking water if you need to loosen the sauce slightly, and add the pasta to the warm tomato sauce. Toss, over gentle heat, until the pasta is well coated. Serve immediately, sprinkled with grated cheese.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.