This recipe is my interpretation of pasta alla Norma (or pasta ca’ Norma), a traditional Sicilian dish made with deep-fried eggplants, tomato sauce and a hard, salty goat+sheep ricotta that we call ricotta salata or also cacioricotta.
I never liked the idea of frying food, especially in summer! I have been making this lighter version with grilled eggplants, cherry tomatoes, and saffron for years, and in the meantime, I love it even more than the original. The secret is to work fast, leave the tomatoes almost raw and use a good quality extra virgin olive oil.
You can enjoy this tasty summer dish also cold in your lunchbox.
Ingredients for 2
- 200 / 250 g of pasta of your choice
- 1 big eggplant, or 2 small (about 300 g in total)
- 2 cups of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon of saffron powder (or about 20 threads: read point 4 below)
- 3/4 cup of the cooking water (read point 4 below)
- salt and pepper
- hard vegan cheese
- fresh herbs (I used chives and mint)
1. Slice the eggplants in rounds no thicker than 1/2 cm (2”). Heat up a grill pan on medium-high heat and grill the slices until the underside turns brown. Now turn them over and grill the other side until brown. Set them aside on a plate.
2. Make the sauce. In a large skillet pour about 1/4 cup of evoo and the finely chopped onion and garlic. Let it cook on low heat (without frying) until the onion turns translucent. Increase the heat to high and then add the tomatoes. Sautée for just 30 seconds on high heat, then add the grilled aubergines, season well, stir for 30 seconds, then remove the skillet from the stove and set aside.
3. Cook your pasta in well salted, boiling water until al dente.
4. Prepare your saffron infusion. If you use the powder, take about 3/4 cup of the boiling water while your pasta is cooking, pour the saffron powder and stir well. If you have the threads, you need to start a bit earlier, before grilling the eggplants. Boil 3/4 cup of water and add your saffron threads. Cover and let infuse for about 30 / 40 minutes.
5. Pour the saffron infusion into the skillet with the sauce and turn the heat up high. When the water boils, toss in the pasta and stir well.
6. Serve the pasta with some fresh extra virgin olive oil and grated vegan cheese.