Any type of food that has an attachment to Sicily perks my interest. I will always stretch my limit for Sicilian gastronomy. Among the regions of Italy, Sicily is one of my favorites. Not because my husband's roots are from there but because the island is superior in culture, history & gastronomy. Also noted are the people's friendliness that can melt any icicle & the outstandingly preserved ancient Greek & Moorish monuments scattered in the island.
On my first trip there 12 years ago, my husband and I stopped in an out of the way restaurant because we were looking for an out of the way monument that we couldn't find. It was a hard touristy life without the navigator. Looking at the restaurant, I was thinking that we will eat badly because the exterior inspires aversion to possible customers, but it was very late and we were so hungry. They had the full 5 course menu package for the day but there was no menu to choose from. You will have to eat what they cooked. When we arrived at the main course, we were already deeply rooted to our seats with very little space left for dessert. The food was remarkable!
We pushed our limit for the dessert and refused the big basket of fruit for ten people that the waiter was taking to our table. He was aghast that we decided not to eat any fruit and he admonished us like how parents do to their children. He's a jolly old fellow so there was no offense taken at all. He wouldn't accept no for an answer and spent a full five minute speech explaining to us the importance of eating fresh fruit. Mmmm, it's a good thing I am not his kid. He left the whole basket to us, convinced that his speech was effective. He kept a watchful eye on us to see if we were eating. We struggled with half a fruit each to please him but he was still clucking. Apparently, our little fruit tribute to Mr. Fruit Waiter did not impress him at all. We hurriedly paid and left before he gets the bright idea of sending us the basket to finish. Italians have this thing about eating right and healthy.
Pasta alla Norma's home in Sicily is Catania. It was born as a homage to the finest work of the composer Vincenzo Bellini called Norma. The five fundamental ingredients are basil, ricotta salata stagionata (aged ricotta salata cheese), tomato sauce (See my recipe for simple tomato sauce.), fried aubergines and pasta (Maccheroni specifically but nowadays, penne, spaghetti and some other types of pasta are used.) In my case, I used elicopenna of Gragnano, a type of pasta very similar to penne.
Pasta alla Norma
- 350 - 400 g. elicopenna (or penne rigate, spaghetti, maccheroni, etc.)
- 425 g. tomato sauce
- 2 medium aubergines, cubed (or round)
- aged ricotta salata, grated
- basil leaves
- a lot of peanut oil (Safflower oil, sunflower oil & canola oil have high smoke points too that are perfect for fying.)
- Prepare tomato sauce. Refer to the simple tomato sauce recipe that I had posted. Instead of oregano, use basil.
- Boil water for pasta. When it boils, add salt & cook pasta following the cooking time suggested in the package.
- Deep fry aubergines in hot oil. I prefer cubed aubergines from round slices. Nowadays, it is already acceptable not to salt aubergines to remove the bitterness because the modern ones are less bitter. I don't salt my aubergines anymore to save time. They never come out bitter.
- Mix cooked pasta, a lot of basil leaves, tomato sauce, fried aubergines & as much ricotta salata stagionata you want.