Pasta alla Norma is a classic Sicilian dish made with fresh herbs, anchovy, and eggplant. Fried eggplant was always a staple in my grandparents’ home and something I’ve loved since I was a kid. Like most eggplant dishes, it always started with salting the eggplant and letting it drain on paper towels. Interestingly, this recipe calls for microwaving the eggplant instead of salting and draining. Zapping the eggplant causes it to dry out and collapse, which prevents the eggplant from soaking up too much oil during browning. Having fried a lot of eggplant slices, in a lot of olive oil, I was excited to find the microwaving really did cause the eggplant to soak up much less oil and maintain its sweet nutty flavor, color, and shape. Next time I fry up some sweet eggplant slices I will definitely give the microwave a go and see if it works the same for fried eggplant.
- 1 large globe eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- Kosher salt
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 anchovy fillets, minced
- Red pepper flakes
- 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 1 pound ziti, rigatoni, or penne pasta
- 6 tbsp. chopped fresh basil
- Ricotta salata or Pecorino Romano cheese, shredded to top
- Toss the eggplant with about 1 tsp. salt in a medium bowl. Line the surface of a microwave-safe plate with a double layer of coffee filters (or paper towels) and lightly coat with cooking spray. Spread the eggplant in an even layer on the filters. Microwave, uncovered, until dry to the touch and slightly shriveled, about 10 minutes, tossing once halfway through.
- Transfer to a bowl and drizzle with 1 tbsp. of the olive oil, toss gently. Heat 1 tbsp. of the olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant and cook, stirring frequently, until well browned and fully tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer eggplant to a plate, set aside.
- Add the remaining 1 tbsp. olive oil, garlic, anchovies, and a generous amount of red pepper flakes to the (still hot) skillet and cook using the residual heat so the garlic doesn’t burn, stirring constantly, about 1 minute until the garlic is golden. Add the tomatoes and return to medium-high heat, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened, about 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water, drain, and return to pot. While the pasta is cooking, return the eggplant to the skillet and stir to incorporate. Bring to a simmer and heat until the eggplant is heated through and flavors are blended, about 5 minutes. Stir the basil and a dash of extra virgin olive oil into the sauce and season with salt to taste. Add the sauce to the pasta, adjusting the consistency with the reserved cooking water so that the sauce coats the pasta. Sprinkle with cheese and serve immediately.
Recipe source: America’s Test Kitchen
Time: ~ 1 hour