Thursday, May 2, 2013

Pasta Alla Norma

For my birthday this year, my sister-in-law made an amazing Pasta Alla Norma, which translates to pasta with tomato sauce and eggplant.  I always have bad luck when I try to cook with eggplant (it's totally my cooking nemesis), but the pasta was so good, I was desperate to try to replicate it.  The problem is, like most great cooks, my sister-in-law doesn't follow a recipe, she just wings it.  So I pestered her for hours for every tip and ingredient involved, and then armed with her advice, I gave it my all.  I think it turned out pretty great (though not sure if it was quite as good as my sister-in-law's). It's a little higher in carbs than I usually have for dinner, but a hearty bowl is under 400 calories, which makes it diet-friendly.  

Pasta Alla Norma
Serves 4-5

2 Eggplants, cubed
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
5-6 Garlic Cloves, minced
28 oz can Whole Peeled San Marzano Tomatoes, crushed by hand
1/4 Cup Red Wine (I used Merlot)
3 Pinches of Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 Cup Chopped Fresh Basil
12 oz Pasta (Linguine, Thin Spaghetti, etc.)
1 Cup Reserved Pasta Water
Salt, to taste
Additional Chopped Basil, to taste
Optional: Ricotta Salata or Fresh Mozzarella, cubed


1. Place eggplant in a large colander.  Salt heavily with kosher salt, and let sit for 45 minutes to an hour.  Rinse with water, and then pat dry.

2. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add in olive oil.  Saute eggplant in oil, until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add in garlic, and saute for an additional minute.

3. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, wine, red pepper flakes, and basil.  Bring to a simmer and then cover and reduce heat to medium-low.  Keep sauce at a simmer, stirring occasionally, until eggplant has become very soft, about 45 minutes to an hour.

4. Meanwhile, cook noodles in a pot of salted water, per box instructions, but about one minute shy of al dente, and reserve one cup of the pasta water before draining the noodles. Set the reserved water and noodles aside.

5. Using a potato masher (or the back of a wooden spoon), mash the sauce so that roughly half of the eggplants are mashed into the sauce.  Do a taste test and adjust seasonings if necessary.  Salt.

6. Take a tablespoon or two of the sauce, and stir it into the noodles in the colander.  Then add the coated noodles into the skillet with the sauce, and stir.  Pour in reserved 1/4 cup of the pasta water.  Continue to gradually add more pasta water until the sauce reaches your personal consistency preference (I use the entire cup).

7.  Serve pasta topped with fresh basil and, if you desire, cheese.  To keep it authentic, use crumbled Ricotta Salata.  I personally love it with cubed fresh mozzarella.

Serving Size: 1/5th of Pasta & Sauce
Calories: 389
Fat: 7
Carbs: 71
Protein: 12


* In Step 6, when I say to toss a little sauce with the noodles, it is because this helps the sauce stick better to the noodles when you fully combine the two. Plus it helps prevent the noodles from sticking together.

* Use pasta water, not regular water in Step 6.  The pasta water helps thicken the sauce--if you add regular water, your sauce will be, well, watery.

* Cento makes the best canned whole tomatoes.  Feel free to use fresh peeled tomatoes, if you have some good ripe ones on hand.   I used canned, and I poured it into a medium mixing bowl in order to more easily crush by hand.

* Don't skip the salting of the eggplant part. It helps make the eggplant more tender, and reduces bitterness.  Rinsing afterwards helps prevent your sauce from becoming too salty. Make sure to pat dry well afterwards.

*  I used spinach linguine for the pasta; you could use really any pasta you feel like.

* While cooking during Step 3, if your sauce gets too thin (and you don't have reserved pasta water yet), you can use more wine to thin it out, or alternatively, use olive oil or regular water.  

* You may need to play around with the amount of red pepper flakes and/or garlic cloves to get it to your own personal taste.

* Don't use cooking wine! Use real wine. Cooking wine is full of sodium and who knows what else; plus it tastes awful.  Just buy a cheap bottle of real wine, and freeze any leftovers for later cooking if you don't drink.  If you drink, serve the wine with your meal; it will obviously pair well. Or drink it while cooking, like I do. :)

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