A simple Sicilian pasta with tomatoes and eggplant is everything you need on a cold winter night.
By Helen Buxton
There are times when a simple meal is all you want. Quite a lot of the time, actually.
Today’s post came about because a simple meal (and I mean REALLY simple) was truly in order.
This recipe based on a handed-down-through-the-generations Sicilian recipe called Pasta alla Norma was perfect!
I’ve found that there are a few little keys to a successful tomato-based pasta:
-Use a bit more garlic than you think you need.
-Use whole tinned tomatoes rather than chopped/crushed, as they tend to be better quality then crush them yourself in the pan as you go.
-Make sure you add plenty of salt and a bit of sugar for sweetness – then taste as you go.
-Add fresh herbs towards the end of cooking.
-Save some of the pasta cooking water and stir it into the dish at the end to loosen everything up and leave the pasta perfectly coated in sauce.
Another ‘key tip’ for this particular dish is to not be shy with the olive oil. You need a good few glugs at the beginning to cook your eggplant cubes. You really don’t want to be eating woolly, undercooked eggplant (believe me, I’ve done it plenty of times!).
- 4 to 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large eggplant/aubergine, cut into small cubes (about 1cm²)
- 3 – 4 cloves garlic, crushed or sliced
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon crushed chilis
- 2 x 400 gram/14-ounce cans whole tomatoes
- about 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 heaped teaspoon sugar
- salt and pepper, to taste
- a bunch of fresh basil
- 450 grams pasta (I used a variant of penne, but any medium-sized pasta shapes will do)
- 1 ball of mozzarella
- freshly grated parmesan cheese, to serve
- Heat up the olive oil, then stir in the eggplant, making sure it all gets coated in oil. Let cook, stirring occasionally, for about ten minutes.
- Add the garlic and chilis to the pan and cook, stirring, for a couple more minutes.
- Add the tomatoes to the pan, then crush and break them up with your wooden spoon. Pour in the balsamic vinegar, then add the sugar and season generously. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until the eggplant is nice and soft.
- Stir in most of the basil at the end of the cooking time.
- Meanwhile, boil the pasta according to the packet instructions (until al dente is best), then drain, reserving some of the water.
- Add the pasta to the sauce and toss until well coated. Add enough of the reserved cooking water to make the dish nice and smooth and ‘saucy’, then rip the mozzarella into the pan and stir again briefly.
- Serve out into bowls immediately, topping with grated parmesan and the remaining fresh basil.
Use ricotta cheese or pecorino instead of the mozzarella if you like (if you choose pecorino, you won’t need parmesan as well).
It isn’t the end of the world if you use crushed/chopped tomatoes, but whole tomatoes add a bit more ‘quality’ to the dish.
If you like, you can make this into a pasta bake. Just tip the finished pasta and sauce into a baking dish, sprinkle with plenty of parmesan and broil (UK - put under the grill!) until the cheese is bubbling and browned (probably about 4-6 minutes).