STROZZAPRETI “ALLA NORMA” WITH EGGPLANT, FRESH MOZZARELLA AND BASIL
A tasty summer time pasta, “alla norma” originated from Catania and is full of freshness and flavor! If it's not summer, that's ok, we will just modify the recipe a little bit.
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STORY TIME: IT'S GOOD, IT’S GREAT, IT'S A TRUE NORMA!
There is almost always an origin story with pasta, or Italian food in general, but specifically pasta. The name for pasta alla Norma comes from an uncontainable declaration of joy from the eater, declaring it a masterpiece, “Chista è 'na vera Norma!”. It is said that this declaration referenced the masterpiece work of Italian composer, Vincenzo Bellini, from Catania who wrote the opera “Norma” in 1831. It’s also said the dish was named after the opera, and a food writer later declared about the dish, “it is a true Norma!”.
Most of my recipes draw inspiration from specific sources and experiences, and are recreated to a moment in time; what I’m feeling, who I'm cooking for and which ingredients look the best while shopping. So while there are ingredients that would make this recipe “more authentic”, I am rarely motivated by the pursuit of replicating “authentic” and “tradition”. Rather, I prefer to imagine the taste, aroma, textures of the ingredients I have available and use the idea as a source of inspiration. I also say that knowing this particular recipe is best in the summer, and if it is winter time, I would probably just skip the eggplant as an ingredient.
TIPS & TRICKS: CHEESE, HERBS AND EGGPLANT
Let's discuss the primary ingredients for a moment.
- CHEESE: I love the milkiness fresh mozzarella adds to this dish, especially the little bocconcini. Make sure it's in brine, and not just wrapped in plastic.
- Ricotta Salata is an ideal choice if you're going for a sharper, dynamic flavor. If you pick this instead of the mozzarella, use the shred side of a 4 side box grater.
- HERBS: Basil is the best!
- Flat leaf green basil is available year around and is good. The leaf is usually large, so tear it into pieces for this dish instead of cutting it.
- Fino Verde is a pretty specific variety, but if you can grow it, or get it, do it! It won't disappoint, at all, ever. The petite leaf is vibrant and flavorful.
- EGGPLANT: We all know about the globe style eggplant, but the world offers so many varieties!
- Globe style is the standard eggplant. Peel it, cut it into 1” cubes and salt it with a pinch of salt, and spread onto a bakers rack to remove the excess moisture.
- Japanese style eggplants are skinnier and tend to have less seeds. I’d still suggest peeling them, cutting into 1” cubes, lightly salting and spreading on a bakers rack.
- Farmers markets in season eggplant. In season locally is the best for eggplant, cool varieties and they taste extra good. If the skin feels thin, keep it for the extra color it adds to the dish.
POTS, PANS & UTENSILS
For this recipe we suggest the following pieces of equipment. If you are doubling the recipe, just use bigger pots and/or pans.
- 10” saute pan
- 10” nonstick saute pan
- 4 to 6 quart pot
- Bakers cooling rack + tray to set the rack on
- Long handle strainer/sieve
- Wooden spoon
- Slotted spoon
- Cutting board
- Bowls for ingredients
- Cheese grater
RECIPE FOR STROZZAPRETI “ALLA NORMA” WITH EGGPLANT, FRESH MOZZARELLA AND BASIL
Serves 2 entree portions or 4 side portions. To serve 4 entree portions, double the recipe and use larger pans.
- 6 ounces Della Terra Strozzapreti
- 3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, for lightly frying the eggplant
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, for the sauce
- 1 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into 1” cubes, lightly salted and set onto a baking tray for 1 hour to remove excess moisture
- 1 tablespoon of Wondra flour
- 2 cloves or garlic, thin sliced
- 10 ounces of San Marzano tomato, hand crushed
- 4 ounces of fresh mozzarella, cut into ½” pieces
- Or 2 ounces of ricotta salata grated on the shred side of a box grater
- Pinch of crushed pepper flake
- 1-2 teaspoons olive oil to garnish
- Kosher salt as needed
METHOD FOR PREPARING THE SAUCE
Pan fry the eggplant, here is how.
- Heat the nonstick pan with the 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat, target heat for pan frying is about 275/300F.
- DO NOT use high heat, it will ruin the flavor of the olive oil.
- Toss the prepared eggplant in a bowl with the Wondra flour.
- The oil is ready when a piece of the eggplant sizzles. If it just sits there, the oil is too cool.
- Place the eggplant into the pan in one even layer, avoid stirring until the pan is hot again. As the eggplant browns, turn each piece over until it is evenly golden on all sides.
- Remove with a slotted spoon and place onto a bakers rack or onto a paper towel and season with a pinch of salt.
In the other saute pan, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil along with the garlic and cook over low-medium heat.
When the garlic has begun to lightly brown, swirl in the crushed pepper, and add the tomato to stop the cooking of the garlic. Reduce the heat and simmer the tomato for about a minute.
METHOD FOR COOKING THE PASTA
Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Cook the pasta for the suggested time, tasting it at the lower number and cooking until the al dente meets your preference.
Using the sieve, remove the cooked pasta and add it to the sauce when it is ready.
COMPLETE THE DISH
Combine the cooked pasta and sauce along with an additional splash of pasta water over low-medium heat and stir to coat the pasta, about 1 minute.
Add the fried eggplant, mozzarella and basil, stir/toss together adding a splash of pasta water if the sauce is too tight.
Drizzle a splash of the extra virgin olive oil, toss and using the wooden spoon, transfer the pasta to the plate.
Sprinkle cheese as a garnish, if you really want to.
SUBSTITUTIONS & ALTERNATIVES
PASTA: Use Della Terra Fusilli or campanelle as alternate shapes for this recipe.
VEGETARIAN: This is a vegetarian recipe!
VEGAN: It’s a vegan recipe if you skip the cheese!