How do you feel about eggplant? Love it? Hate it? Eggplant is one of my favorite vegetables. They are rich and creamy. I know that most eggplants we see in supermarket are usually bitter. They are the globe eggplants. They are a bit round and long, like a balloon. The Chinese variety is skinny and long. They are not bitter at all. You can usually find them in Asian supermarkets.
My love of eggplants started when I was in middle school. There used to be a Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong that made fried eggplant cubes during lunch hours. That was a must order dish for me. The eggplant cubes were coated in a light batter and fried to golden brown. They were then tossed with salt. They were crispy on the outside, and silky creamy on the inside. Savory little bites… They really were the best! Unfortunately, the restaurant has closed down years ago. I have seen anything like that ever since.
Eggplant is delicious when cook in a flavorful sauce. It is like a sponge that absorbs everything around them. There is another Chinese eggplant dish that I like. It is spicy eggplant with ground pork and salted fish (魚香茄子). It is mildly spicy. The tender sweet eggplant soak in the salty and meaty sauce. It is best to be eaten with a bowl of rice. Just thinking about it makes me want drool!
Ok… I am talking way too much about the eggplant dishes in Hong Kong. Let’s get back on track and talk about this eggplant pasta.
This pasta dish is vegetarian. WHAT? Yup, you didn’t see it wrong. It is a meatless dish. Even for meat eaters like Bryan and I couldn’t resist this dish. It all started at a birthday dinner party that Bryan and I went to. This eggplant pasta was one of the dishes we tried. Absolutely delicious!
According to the internet world, this is a traditional pasta dish from Sicily. It is fairly common. The dish is very straight forward and basic. In a light tomato sauce, toss in fried eggplant cubes and basil. Then top with ricotta cheese. The eggplants were nicely golden brown. They were meaty and creamy. We especially love the light smokey and earthy flavors. Who needs meat, right? The one special ingredient is the grated ricotta salata. It is an aged ricotta cheese that is dried and salted. However, it may not be easily found. I used fresh ricotta and pecorino cheese instead. It works out great! Just as tasty!
Pasta alla Norma (Eggplant and Tomato Pasta)
– 1 medium globe eggplant or 2 small Chinese eggplants
– 2 cloves garlic (smashed and minced)
– 10-ounce canned chopped San Marzano tomatoes
– 8 ounces short cut pasta, like Orecchiette and rotini
– ¼ cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese, plus more for serving
– 5 – 6 basil leaves
– 4 ounces ricotta cheese
– olive oil
- Cut the eggplant into 1/3-inch slices. Sprinkle generously with salt and let sit at room temperature for 30 – 60 minutes. Rinse the salt off under water and pat dry with paper towels. Cut the eggplant into 1/3-inch cubes. Pat dry more with paper towels.
- In a medium pot over medium heat, add enough olive oil to reach 1-inch in depth. Fry the eggplant cubes in batches until golden brown. Transfer the cooked eggplant to a plate lined with paper towels.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, warm 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and about ¼ cup water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water (salted) to a boil over high heat. Cook the pasta until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally. Reserve ½ cup pasta water. Drain the pasta and add to the sauce. Toss and add more a little bit of pasta water if needed. Add the eggplant and freshly torn basil. Mix well gently. Season if needed. Turn off the heat. Add the grated Pecorino cheese. Mix again. Transfer to serving plates.
- Mix 1 tablespoon of pasta water with the ricotta cheese. Add a few dollops of cheese on top of the pasta. Sprinkle with more grated Pecorino cheese. Serve immediately.
- Use ricotta salata cheese if you can find it. If not, use Pecorino cheese instead.
(Adapted from Food52)