Legend has it that the original Pasta Alla Norma was created as a tribute to the opera "Norma" composed by Vincenzo Bellini. He was from Sicily where this dish originated. This is a Southern twist on this old Italian favorite with the addition of smoked Carolina sausage. If you haven't tried the latter, you are in for a big treat.
Pasta Alla Norma is essentially pasta with tomatoes, fried eggplant, grated ricotta salata cheese, and basil. The kick comes in the form of chili peppers or red pepper flakes. Because this recipe has sausages that are already spicy and hot we omit them here. The idea came after grilling a few too many links on the 4th of July. Don't omit them. It is really the game changer that takes this recipe from great to spectacular.
If Smoked Carolina Links are not available in your neck of the woods, try substituting hot Italian ones, but grill them. Don't be afraid of all the cheeses. I use a relatively small amount of each but it creates a good texture. It is also one of the few pastas that reheats well the next day.
Friends and readers are always asking me for new eggplant recipes around this time of the year. Here is one you will enjoy and one I promise you will be making again and again.
2 medium eggplants, cut into 3/4″ cubes
7 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 Smoked Carolina Sausage Links or hot Italian sausages.
1 small yellow onion, minced
1/8 tsp. crushed red chile flakes (only use if not using hot sausages)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz. can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, undrained and crushed by hand
16 fresh basil leaves, torn by hand
1 lb. fettucine, bucatini or spaghetti
1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream or milk
6 oz. ricotta cheese
6 oz. shredded mozzarella
3 TB. grated Parmigiano
Heat oven to 500º. Put eggplant into a bowl and drizzle with 4 tbsp. oil. Toss to combine and season with salt and pepper. Transfer eggplant to a baking sheet and bake, turning occasionally, until soft and caramelized, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack; set aside. Grill the 2 smoked sausage links or hot Italian Sausage. You can also cook them in the oven or in a skillet. Mine were leftovers from the night before. When done cut in cubes and set aside with the eggplant.
Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees
Heat remaining oil in a 5-qt. pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, until soft, about 10 minutes. Add chile flakes and garlic and cook, stirring, until garlic softens, about 3 minutes. I actually added less pepper flakes since the sausages were hot and spicy. Add tomatoes and half the basil, season with salt, and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until just al dente, about 9 minutes. Drain the pasta. In a square casserole dish, smear about 2 TB. of the tomato sauce in the bottom. Add the pasta and most of the tomato sauce but save about 3 TBS. Mix a bit but not completely. Stir in reserved eggplant, the sausage. the ricotta and the mozzarella and toss to combine. Add about 1/4 cup of heavy cream (or milk) to soften it up a bit. Stir in remaining basil and taste for with salt. Add the remaining tomato sauce in teaspoonfuls and stagger them on top.
|Before going into the oven|
Top with grated Parmesan cheese and place in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes until the cheese has melted on top and it's bubbly in the bottom. To serve, transfer pasta to a platter and garnish with more parmesan cheese if desired..