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Pasta alla Norma

A classic Sicilian dish, pasta alla Norma is a great way to use up an excess of two summer stars: eggplant and fresh basil. Cooked down until lightly browned on the outside and creamy in the center, the eggplant cubes are tossed into a simple tomato sauce with pasta, then finished with salty ricotta salata cheese and a showering of basil for herby freshness. Any pasta shape works here, but we like thicker tubular shapes like calamarata or rigatoni—their hollow centers provide ample space for the sauce to hide.

The Norma in the dish’s title is the titular protagonist of an Italian opera by Vincenzo Bellini, which, like the pasta named for it, is notable for its lyric beauty. But, if you have to adjust those notes a bit (we’re talking about the pasta alla Norma recipe now), it’s pretty forgiving. Ricotta salata is the dried-out cousin of plain old milky ricotta—but don’t sub in that fresher cheese if you can’t find it. Instead, look to other dry, hard cheeses like Parmesan or Pecorino Romano. The three have vastly different flavors, but they’ll work just as well in this pasta dish.

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Ingredients

4 servings

1

28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes

cup plus 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1

lb. Japanese or globe eggplant, cut into ½” pieces

tsp. Diamond Crystal or 1½ tsp. Morton kosher salt, divided, plus more

3

garlic cloves, thinly sliced

½

tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

3

Tbsp. double-concentrated tomato paste

2

Tbsp. coarsely chopped oregano

1

lb. tubular pasta (such as calamarata or rigatoni)

4

oz. ricotta salata, shaved

Torn basil leaves (for serving)

Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation

Step 1

Dump one 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes with juices into a medium bowl; crush tomatoes with your hands. Set aside.

Step 2

Heat ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-high. Add 1 lb. Japanese or globe eggplant, cut into ½” pieces, and sprinkle with 1 tsp. Diamond Crystal or ½ tsp. Morton kosher salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is softened and golden brown, 6–8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Step 3

Heat remaining 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil in same pot over medium-high. Cook 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced, and ½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add 3 Tbsp. double-concentrated tomato paste and cook, stirring, until darkened in color, about 2 minutes. Add 2 Tbsp. coarsely chopped oregano, 1½ tsp. Diamond Crystal or 1 tsp. Morton kosher salt, and reserved tomatoes. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Return eggplant to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is completely tender and flavors have melded, about 2 minutes.

Step 4

Meanwhile, cook 1 lb. tubular pasta (such as calamarata or rigatoni) in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Step 5

Add pasta and ½ cup pasta cooking liquid to sauce. Cook, stirring often and adding more pasta cooking liquid if needed, until sauce is thickened and coats pasta, about 2 minutes.

Step 6

Divide pasta among shallow bowls. Top with 4 oz. ricotta salata, shaved, dividing evenly, and torn basil leaves. Season with freshly ground black pepper.

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