Thursday, September 17, 2009

norma's cousin diane. or something like that.

I always want to love Pasta alla Norma, the classic eggplant, tomato, ricotta baked pasta combo. But every time I have it, it's too heavy, and the eggplant is oily, and the overall experience is a huge disappointment. But today at the farmers market, I saw beautiful, skinny japanese eggplants, and all I could think of was Norma! Instead of making the classic, I decided to make a lighter, fresher version, using fresh mozzarella (from Fiore di Nonno) in place of ricotta, a light, slightly spicy fresh tomato sauce, and freshly made rigatoni from DePasquale's in the North End. The end result was exactly what I wanted - nicely melted mozzarella, delicious sauce, and perfectly cooked eggplant.

Here's the recipe - call it what you will!

Serves 4

3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Japanese eggplants, sliced into rounds
1 cherry bomb pepper
5 plum tomatoes, cored and chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 lb. fresh rigatoni
1/2 ball of fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4 inch slices
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat a 4 quart saute pan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil to coat bottom of pan. Once oil shimmers, add the garlic and hot pepper. Saute for one minute, until garlic is fragrant. Add eggplant, and season liberally with salt and pepper. Saute for about 5 minutes, then add the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste. Add a handleful of basil leaves. Cover, and cook, stirring occassionally, for about 10 minutes.

In the meantime, bring the pasta water to a boil, and cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and return to pot. Add half of the tomato/eggplant sauce, and stir to coat. Pour into oven safe baking dish. Top with remaining sauce, mozzarella, salt and pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes, until cheese is melted and starting to bubble.

Serve topped with a chiffonade of basil.


- e

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