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)
Large Pot (for boiling pasta)
Simmering Pasta Sauce