I ate at a friend’s house recently and she cooked one of my fish recipes from Sicilian Seafood Cooking; she apologized for using tinned tomatoes instead of fresh and asked me if it had altered the taste of the recipe. There was no need to make an apology – the fish tasted great and I told her that I only use red, fresh tomatoes in cooking when they are sold ripe and at a reasonable price; the tins of whole, peeled tomatoes I buy are a perfectly suitable substitute, and quick too. I try to buy Australian tomatoes.
There are some summer pasta dishes which call for uncooked, ripe tomatoes and I would never substitute tinned ones for this recipe – Pasta alla Norma.
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.
All it is = a salsa of fresh tomatoes , pasta and fried eggplants added last of all – usually cubed. Ricotta salata tops it all off. Easy stuff – see recipe below.
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) 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 to Agrigento). The tagliatelle were presented on top of half an eggplant, (which 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. 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 it will cook more evenly.
Recipe for Pasta alla Norma
I have used casarecci, 500g