Pasta is a go-to dinner in my kitchen. Toss it with pesto, a tomato sauce or even a simple garnish of butter and Parmigiana Reggiano and dinner’s done in minutes. On the rare occasion when I have a few extra minutes to get dinner on the table I like to dress up my Quick Tomato Sauce with a little pan-seared eggplant for my super fast take on Pasta alla Norma.
Pasta alla Norma
Pasta alla Norma is a Sicilian pasta sauce made by stirring fried eggplant slices into tomato sauce. Traditional recipes also include basil and grated ricotta salata cheese. Ricotta salata can be tricky to find without a trip to a specialty cheese shop but Parmigiana Reggiano is a delicious substitute.
Golden brown eggplant slices with a soft, buttery center are the goal for this recipe. Start with a hot pan coated generously with olive oil. Season the eggplant with big pinches of salt and pepper before adding them to the hot oil. Eggplant absorbs A LOT of oil as it’s being cooked. The hotter the oil, the less the eggplant will absorb. If your pan’s not hot enough, the eggplant will soak up ALL of the oil and won’t brown properly.
Once they’re nicely browned on both sides, place the slices on a plate or tray lined with paper towels to soak up any excess oil before you add them to the tomato sauce. Don’t try to cook all of the eggplant slices at one time, no matter how large your pan is. The more food you add to a pan, the lower the temperature drops. Lower temperature means more oil seeping into your eggplant.
Eggplant slices are spongelike in their ability to absorb oil so it’s important to get your pan and the oil nice and hot before adding them to the pan. (Learn more about the importance of Hot Pans…)
Be careful not to overcrowd your pan when searing the eggplant slices. Cook them in batches so they brown nicely. (Learn the dangers of overcrowding.)
Don’t skip draining the eggplant. Place the fried slices on a paper towel lined plate to get rid of any excess oil.
Plate lined with Paper Towels (for draining fried eggplant)
Simmering Pasta Sauce
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 medium eggplant (about 1 lb) sliced 1/2-inch thick
- 3/4-lb spaghetti
- 1 batch Quick Tomato Sauce
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiana Reggiana, plus additional for sprinkling
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat.
- Season eggplant slices generously with salt and pepper. Add eggplant to pan, arranging slices in one even layer in pan. Cook in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan. Cook eggplant until it's a deep golden brown on each side, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove eggplant slices from pan and place on plate lined with paper towels to drain.
- While eggplant fries, cook pasta according to package directions in a pot of heavily salted water, rapidly boiling water. Set aside 1 cup of the hot pasta water before draining pasta.
- Return eggplant pan to medium heat. You should have a thin coating of olive oil in the pan, drain any excess. Add Quick Tomato Sauce to pan and bring to a simmer. Stir in reserved pasta water and continue to simmer until sauce begins to thicken slightly, 3-5 minutes.
- Once fried eggplant is cool enough to touch, cut the slices into 1-inch wide strips and add the strips to the sauce. Cook, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is heated through. Stir in parm and adjust seasonings, as needed.
- Arrange spaghetti on plates or in a bowl. Top with sauce and serve!