Tag Archives: Ricotta Salata

PASTA ALLA NORMA and a variation (Pasta with tomato salsa and fried eggplants… and currants, anchovies and bottarga)

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I recently made Pasta alla norma and although this post was first posted on May 4, 2012 and I am posting it again on 25th April 2018. Ripe tomatoes and eggplants continue into autumn and although the basil may have finished, fresh mint leaves add an interesting fresh taste to the dish. 

Pasta alla Norma is one of those dishes Sicilians are extremely fond of especially in late summer when the tomatoes are ripe, the basil is abundant and the eggplants are at their best. 

There are some summer pasta dishes which call for uncooked, ripe tomatoes and when possible I try not to substitute tinned tomatoes for Pasta alla Norma.

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All it is = a  salsa of fresh tomatoes, short pasta (caserecce are good) and fried eggplants – usually cubed and added to the pasta once it has been dressed with the tomato salsa. Ricotta salata tops it all off.  Easy stuff. Failing ricotta salata, use a strong pecorino cheese… both these cheeses are preferred by Sicilians; parmigiano is the preferred cheese in Northern Italy.

The dish originates from Catania, the city that my mother’s family comes from. Many presume that the dish is named after the opera, La Norma, by the composer Vincenzo Bellini who was born in Catania (1801-1835), but there are others who think that the expression ‘a norma’ (in Sicilian) was commonly used in the early 1900s to describe food that was cooked true to form (i.e. as normal, as it should be) and according to all the rules and regulations specified in the recipe.

I ate a version of Pasta alla Norma in a seafood restaurant in San Leone (on the coast, near Agrigento). The tagliatelle were presented on top of half an eggplant, (that had been cut in half and then fried). The sauce also contained a few currants and a few anchovies, thin slices of bottarga (dry, salted tuna roe) and cubes of ricotta salata on top. It does look very spectacular, but if you intend to do this, and are using a large round eggplant, cut the eggplant horizontally and remove a slice from the centre of it to make it thinner – the eggplant will cook more evenly. Follow the recipe below and to the salsa, add a tablespoon of currants and a couple of chopped anchovies. In Sicily bottarga is salted, cured fish tuna roe rather than bottarga made with grey mullet as common in Sardegna (Sardinia).

INGREDIENTS
I have used casarecce, 500g

eggplants, 500g or more
extra virgin olive oil, 1 ½ cups ( ½ cup for the tomato salsa,1 cup to fry the eggplant) 
garlic, 3 cloves
ripe tomatoes, 1k, peeled and chopped
salt (a little) and freshly ground black pepper to taste
basil, fresh leaves (10-15) some for the salsa and some for decoration
PROCESSES
Remove the stem end of eggplant and without peeling and slice or cut into cubes. I do not usually salt my eggplant; sometimes I briefly soak it in salted water so that the eggplant does not absorb as much oil. Pat-dry the eggplant and fry in 1 cup of olive oil until golden. Drain on paper towels.
Make the tomato salsa: place the tomatoes in the pan with garlic, oil, salt and some basil leaves: cook uncovered on medium heat till it is thick.
Cook pasta and drain.
Mix the pasta with the tomato sauce, place in a large serving bowl and top with the eggplants and the remaining basil (or mint).
Present with grated cheese, preferably ricotta salata.
 

LA LATTERIA, Carlton and freshly made Italian cheeses

Sicilians are very enthusiastic about their local cow and sheep’s milk cheeses. Goat’s milk is generally drunk rather than made into cheese, and as always there are exceptions.

Each Sicilian region is proud of their local product and many of the cheeses are named after the region, for example: Madonie provola, from the Madonie Mountains (north west Sicily), Nebrodi Provola, from the Nebrodi Mountains (north eastern Sicily) and Ragusano is the caciocavallo cheese from Ragusa. Sadly, very few of the local Sicilian cheese varieties are unknown outside Sicily and never make it into Australia.

Many of the Sicilian cheeses are pecorino or provola type cheeses.

These cheeses are eaten at varying stages of maturity – dolce (sweet) when it is fresh and piccante (spicy) when mature. Some cheese is eaten very fresh and unsalted. Once the cheese is salted it is eaten progressively until the cheese crust has formed and the cheese is considered ripe (which could be as short as five months).

The most commonly recognised Sicilian cheeses made in Australia are tuma and primo sale, pecorino and provola. Ricotta, is not technically a cheese but it is eaten and used as such.

I have been fortunate to have lived in both Adelaide and Melbourne where I am able to purchase freshly made cheeses and the latest business enterprise in Melbourne is La Latteria in Carlton.

This cheese making and selling endeavour of two innovative people: Linguanti from That’s Amore Cheese (he is experienced) and Laird from a South Melbourne Restaurant (where she was head chef). The combination of skills seems a good one; I would imagine that Italians would still buy the traditional cheeses and the adventurous buyers may venture to purchase  the cheeses that have been formed into less traditional shapes and that have herbs or salame added.

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Liguanti and Laird are both passionate about their work and the fresh stretched cheeses (e.g. fior di latte, bocconcini, burrata) are made daily in small batches. And this is exactly how Italians like to eat them, made daily and if possible, warm, just like their bread (it is very common to buy warm, freshly made bread twice a day).

Latterie are found all over Italy- this is where one buys milk products and this includes fresh cheeses, so the business is appropriately named. They sell fresh yoghurt, un-homogenised milk, cow and buffalo milk cheeses. Not all the cheeses have to be made fresh on the day and there are some in the selection for example the smoked scamorza, which is slightly aged. The cheeses they make are found in various regions of Italy, for example the burrata is popular in Pugia, provola in the south of Italy from Campania to Sicilia, and crescenza is like stracchino is made in Lombardia and Piemonte.

La Latteria also make ricotta salata, very much longed-for by Sicilians not living in Sicily. It is mainly used as a grating cheese, but Sicilians find any excuse to-get-stuck-into-it and at any  time. As you can see by the photo, La Latteria’s ricotta salata is made into small shapes and sold dried ready for grating. What I used to purchase in Adelaide from La Casa del Formaggio was sold in much larger shapes and left to the buyer to dry it out; the problem with this was that it was eaten before it was dry enough to be grated. A real treat.

Italianicious (magazine) has also had an article on Giorgio Liguanti.

It is called That’s Amore Cheese – Made with love:

Other recipes/ other posts:

SICILIAN CHEESE.  A VISIT TO A MASSARO

This has a recipe Formaggio all’Argentiera (Pan fried cheese)

 

RICOTTA FRISCA ‘NFURNATA – RICOTTA FRESCA INFORNATA (Baked, fresh ricotta)

RICOTTA (has a recipe for Baked Ricotta)

VARIATIONS for Baked Ricotta recipe:

In a restaurant in Syracuse I ate baked ricotta presented warm and sprinkled with a coating of toasted pistachio nuts. If you would like to make this version just rub the ricotta with olive oil and a little salt. Add the nuts in the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Instead of salt I have also dribble honey over ricotta, bake it and present it with poached fruit as a dessert. I have never eaten this in Sicily, but we all experiment with ingredients and it is winter after all.

Apologies to my overseas readers, I do not know where you can buy freshly made Italian cheeses.