We’re in the middle of Lent and, if you’re like me and many other Italians, you’re wondering what to eat on Friday. Sure, seafood is the obvious choice, but what are some other dishes ideal for this time of year when we’re limiting our meat intake?
In 2019, right before tourism shut down, I led a food and wine tour of Sicily. Of course, being just that, a food and wine tour, we had our share of delicious Sicilian cuisine. One dish that kept popping up in many restaurants was the dish simply known on the island as “La Norma.” When you go to any restaurant and you request this, everyone will know what you’re talking about. No, you’re not asking for the waitress or hostess named Norma, but the iconic pasta dish prepared with eggplants and tomatoes, and often topped with shaved ricotta salata, or, if that is not available, a tablespoon of fresh ricotta can be substitute. It’s a specialty of the city of Catania, but it’s served all over the eastern side of the island.
This dish is typical Sicilian in that it’s economical, hardy and convenient, and uses limited, but high quality ingredients. If you have never prepared it before, you will be surprised at how easy it is. If you have made it before, perhaps now is the time to make it again. It will be perfect for Friday night dinner.
Pasta alla Norma
Serves 4 – 6 as a first course
2 – 3 medium eggplants (about 1½ lbs)
4 tablespoons olive oil (plus extra as needed)
Salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped basil
1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes, or San Marzano tomatoes
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¾ to 1 lb pasta of your choice
½ cup grated ricotta salata (or fresh ricotta)
Grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese (optional)
- Dice the eggplant to about 1 inch cubes. Add the oil to a large sauté pan and add the diced eggplant. Set the heat to medium and cook in the olive oil, working in batches if needed. Add a sprinkling of salt, and black pepper. Cook the eggplant until it’s all nicely browned, adding additional oil if needed. Remove to a plate, leaving any leftover oil in the plan. If there is no leftover oil, add an additional tablespoon.
- Meanwhile, put a large pot of salted water to boil to cook the pasta.
- Add the garlic, basil and parsley to the sauté pan that the eggplant was cooked in. Add the tomatoes and oregano, along with some additional salt and pepper, as desired. Cook sauce for 15 or so minutes, stirring occasionally. Return the cooked eggplant to the sauce and mix.
- Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain it and toss it with the tomato sauce. Serve family style in large platter, or into serving dishes and serve with grated ricotta salata or a tablespoon of fresh ricotta cheese. Top with grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese, if desired.
What to Pack for Italy
Cosa Mettere in Valigia per l'Italia
Everyone is always asking me what they should pack for Italy,
so I’ve created a quick reference guide that you can use for your next trip.
Hint: You don’t need nearly as much as you think you do!