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Pasta Alla Norma

Pasta Alla Norma

 It’s easy to be inspired to cook in the summer, with all the fresh, seasonal produce available from farmers’ markets and backyard gardens. 

It’s also easy to be inspired when a company like Olio2go sends you some outstanding extra virgin olive oils from Tuscany.
This trio arrived in the mail the other day and I knew exactly how to start using them, after harvesting a ripe eggplant from the garden.
It had been at least a year since I made pasta alla Norma, the iconic Sicilian dish with eggplant, named after Bellini’s opera. It was time once again.
You don’t have to peel your eggplant, and I was sorry I had, since the skin was so thin and the purple color would have made a nice contrast to the sauce. Slice the eggplant (about 1/2 inch thick – any thinner and the pieces will fall apart in cooking), then cut into cubes.
I spread the cubes on paper towels and salted them. It’s supposed to help remove the bitterness and some of the water. I’m not so sure it’s necessary when the eggplant is so young and fresh, but I do it anyway if I have time. I let the cubes drain on the paper towels for at least 1/2 hour.
Many people grill or broil the eggplant, rather than fry, since eggplant is notorious for soaking up oil.  I’ve done it myself and it works just fine. But it’s just not as flavorful as cooking it in oil and if you cook it in a nonstick pan, it minimizes the amount of oil needed.
 I chose to cook the eggplant using the Guadagnolo Primus extra virgin oil from Olio2go. This is an intensely spicy oil that comes from pressing of the earliest ripening olives. I thought it would hold its own with the tomatoes and eggplant, and it did. But I didn’t want the eggplant laden with oil, so I limited myself to four tablespoons, enough to grab the flavor of the oil without overly drowning the eggplant. I also added a drizzle at the end to finish the dish.
A nonstick pan (I love the ones from ScanPan) is almost essential in keeping the cubes from attaching to the bottom of the pan.
Toss them around until they’re cooked through and golden brown.
Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. I used fresh tomatoes from the garden, cooking them for only about 1/2 hour, to keep the sauce nice and light. Feel free to use a good canned variety. Gustiamo.com sells fantastic ones, including these Piennolo tomatoes from Mt. Vesuvius.
A crucial ingredient to pasta alla Norma is ricotta salata cheese – a dry, salty ricotta cheese that can be found in Italian specialty stores or supermarkets.
 Can you make this dish without it? Yes, you can use parmesan or pecorino, but it won’t be the same. So search out ricotta salata if you can.
Toss the pasta (traditionally rigatoni) with the sauce and eggplant, top with the ricotta salata, a drizzle of a little more olive oil, and a basil chiffonade.
 It will make you wish summer could stay all year.

 

Stay tuned for more recipes using these fantastic olive oils from Fattoria Ramerino.
 Don’t forget to check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I’m cooking up each day.
You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter.



Pasta Alla Norma
printable recipe here
(serves two or three)

1 medium eggplant, peeled (peeling is optional)
salt
4 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

for the tomato sauce:
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup minced onions
2 small, or 1 large clove garlic
5 fresh ripe medium tomatoes, peeled and diced (or use about two cups canned tomatoes with juices)
salt, pepper to taste
fresh basil, about a half dozen leaves
pinch of crushed red pepper

1/2-3/4 cup shredded ricotta salata

1/2 pound rigatoni pasta

a drizzle of olive oil to finish

Peel the eggplant, if desired. Cut into cubes, about 1/2 inch square. Sprinkle with salt and let them drain for a half hour or longer.  Place the olive oil in a nonstick pan and toss in the olive oil, cooking until softened and lightly browned. Set aside and make the sauce.

For the sauce, peel the tomatoes by placing in boiling water for a minute or two. Slip off the peels, core and dice. Pour the olive oil into a saucepan. Add the onion and garlic, cooking until softened. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper and basil. Cook at low to medium heat for about 1/2 hour to 45 minutes.

Cook the pasta, drain into the tomato sauce, and add the eggplant. Toss all together, then top with the ricotta salt, more minced basil and a drizzle of olive oil.

Eggplant And Pasta Timballo

Eggplant and Pasta Timballo

  Looking for a way to use up some of that late summer eggplant in a show-stopping presentation? This eggplant timballo fits the bill, and it’s much easier to make that you’d think. Imagine the surprise on your guests’ faces when you slice into this, unveiling the pasta interior. Some of my blogger friends – Rowena and Marie – have also posted similar recipes and I always find inspiration from them.


 

For this timballo, I used a one-quart souffle dish that was lightly oiled. I grilled just one large eggplant, spreading a little olive oil on each slice before placing on the grill. Place the pieces with the prettiest grill marks facing the dish, not on the inside since it will be filled with pasta.

 

 

I cooked the pasta – anelli (little rings) in this case – then added some cooked sausage, peas and tomato sauce.

 

 

Throw in some parmesan cheese and mozzarella cheese. I had only about 2 ounces of mozzarella in the fridge, but I recommend using more. It helps to “glue” everything together.

 

 Blend it all together.
And stuff the dish to the brim.
Fold the eggplant slices over the pasta and bake.
Let it rest at least 15 minutes before flipping and serving – with extra sauce on the side.
Here’s a timballo I made last year using a much larger pot. You can see I ran out of eggplants, even though I used three. I baked it this way anyway.


 

It held together well enough and everyone loved it just the same.

 

Even though it uses only one pound of pasta, it served a lot of people. That’s why I went with the smaller one-quart container you see in the first photo this time, that used only 1/2 pound of pasta. But if you’ve got a crowd of a dozen people coming, the larger timballo will serve that many people comfortably.

Eggplant Timballo
(for a one-quart souffle dish or similar vessel)
This will serve at least six people easily.
printable recipe here

1 large eggplant, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
1/2 pound anelli pasta, or other pasta to your taste
1 pound sausage
1/2 cup peas, cooked
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, cubed
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups to 2 cups tomato sauce

Smear the eggplant slices with oil and grill until cooked through. Oil a one-quart souffle dish or similar vessel and arrange the cooked eggplant slices inside, leaving enough hanging over the side to fold over the pasta when the dish is full.

Remove the casing from the sausage, break into bits and cook in a pan. Boil water and cook the pasta until it’s al dente. Drain the pasta and place into a bowl with the cooked sausage, and the rest of the ingredients, using as much tomato sauce as necessary to coat well. Reserve some of the sauce for later. Fill the dish with the pasta, then fold the eggplant slices over, covering the top of the pasta completely. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove and let it rest for at least 15 minutes. Invert onto a serving platter, sprinkle with some parmesan cheese, and serve with the extra sauce.

Ottolenghi

Ottolenghi

 If there’s one chef in England whose name keeps springing up on food blogs, it’s Yoram Ottolenghi. A Jew who was born and raised in Jerusalem to a German mother and an Italian father, his food bears a decidedly middle Eastern influence, and a broader Mediterranean one as well.  He moved to London in 1997, ostensibly to study for a doctorate degree, but got sidelined along the way to study at Le Cordon Bleu instead.  A business partnership with Sami Tamini, a Palestinian also raised in Jerusalem,  led to the opening of four shops in London, one of which I had to check out on my recent visit. My friend Mariana and I went to the Islington location, the only one of the Ottolenghi shops that has an area where diners can actually be seated.

 

Still, we decided to choose take-out from the bountiful offerings available and transport our booty home to eat in the comfort of Mariana and Carlo’s living room  — much easier than keeping four little ones happy in hard plastic chairs in a cramped seating area.

 

 

We got something to please all appetites – the children’s less adventuresome palates were happy with the tender beef filet and potatoes, while the adults marveled at the range of flavors in the vegetarian dishes – winter slaw, eggplants with turmeric yogurt, cauliflower and lentil salads, and a melange of snow peas, asparagus and water cress — oh and foccaccia too, plus a delicious selection of desserts I forgot to photograph in the frenzy of eating.

Having flipped through his two cookbooks, Ottolenghi and Plenty, and now eaten his food, it’s apparent that Ottolenghi loves to give herbs and spices a starring role, including ones that may be unfamiliar to most Americans, like zatar and sumac. Back at home, I knew I had to try to cook some of the bold and flavorful dishes I had eaten. Italian food is my first love, but I do step out to other cuisines too. I chose to recreate a hybrid version between the eggplant dish I had eaten from the restaurant, and an eggplant recipe in one of his cookbooks. Although I tucked a small jar of that sumac in my suitcase, you won’t need any esoteric spices for this recipe, but what you’ll still achieve is a new and fresh flavor sensation that’s a far cry (at least for me) from the food I’ve been eating all my life.
 
Ottolenghi-inspired Eggplant 
2 medium to large eggplants
olive oil to brush on the eggplant
1 small container (6 oz) Greek yogurt
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. mustard seeds
1/4 tsp. coriander seeds
salt, pepper to taste
toasted pine nuts
pomegranate seeds
cilantro leaves
I peel eggplant “stripes” leaving on some of the skin. Cut into 1/4 inch slices and grill, brushing each slice of eggplant with some olive oil. If you don’t have a grill, place the eggplant slices on a cookie sheet that’s been greased with olive oil. Brush the top side of the eggplant slices with oil. Roast in a 400 degree oven until cooked through and golden, flipping once.
Let the eggplant slices cool, and arrange on a platter. To make the sauce, grind the seeds in a mortar and pestle – or if you have a small electric coffee grinder, use that. Mix all ingredients together except the last three. Spread the sauce over the eggplant, then sprinkle on pine nuts that you’ve toasted a little to give some color, and some pomegranate seeds. Top with some cilantro leaves. Serve at room temperature.
Ratatouille

Ratatouille

Anyone who’s ever eaten or made ratatouille has an opinion on what the dish should taste like and how it should be prepared. Let me just say there is no definitive version. There’s only the version you like. The version I like? It spoke to me at a Provencal restaurant along the Mediterranean Sea nearly 25 years ago. “Use more olive oil,” it said. “Use more red peppers,” it said. So I listened. And I made it. But it wasn’t the same. So I made it again. And again. And again. After years of trial and error, I finally figured out why I so loved that particular ratatouille in a little French village near the Italian border on that particular night. Yes, I liked the heavy hand the chef had taken with the olive oil, and yes I liked the abundance of red peppers. But it was technique as much as ingredients that made the dish special. The key to this particular recipe is layering. Don’t just throw all the vegetables into the pot and expect it to transport you to St. Tropez. Read the instructions and you’ll see what I mean.
This makes a great side dish, particularly with sausages or pork as a main course. But it’s wonderful as a main course too, in individual casseroles topped with grated parmesan cheese and placed under the broiler for a few minutes. It’s the next best thing to being in Les Baux.

Ratatouille

Serves six as a side dish or four as a main course.

I prefer more red peppers (a lot more) and zucchini and fewer eggplants than most ratatouille recipes, but you can substitute anything you like.

1 medium size yellow onion, chopped into small pieces
3 medium size zucchini, cut into chunks
1 medium size eggplant, partly peeled (I make “stripes” down the eggplant with a vegetable peeler) and cut into chunks
6 large red peppers, cut into chunks
8 cloves of garlic, minced
6 fresh plum tomatoes, or 1 28-ounce can tomatoes
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. freshly ground sea or kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. herbs de provence

Saute the onions in part of the olive oil for about 10 minutes, or until translucent and golden. Remove the sauteed onions to a plate or bowl.
Add more of the olive oil and the zucchini. Saute for five minutes or just until the pieces begin to soften. Remove and place on a separate plate.
Add the peppers and saute for five minutes. Then add the onions and zucchini back into the pot with the peppers. Add the garlic and let it saute a few minutes.
Add the remaining olive oil and eggplant pieces. Saute all the vegetables together another five minutes at medium heat. (The eggplant should be added last since it will disintegrate into unrecognizable pieces if given the same cooking time as the other vegetables.)
If using fresh tomatoes, peel the skin ahead of time by placing in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes, then cut in half, clean out the seeds and dice the flesh. Add the tomatoes to the pot. If using canned tomatoes, do not use the liquid in the can at first. You can add it later if the mixture looks too dry.
Add the salt, pepper and herbs de provence and simmer at medium heat for 20 minutes with the lid off, to help evaporate some of the liquid.