Sara Jenkins’ Pasta Alla Norma

“Oh sweet Jesus” were the first words out my mouth after my first bite. “F*%k this is good” were the words after my first taste of the sauce.  Beth’s first words once she was able to put a sentence together were “You need to go to Italy.”  It. Was. Amazing.

Saveur magazine had an entire issue of chefs favorite things, from recipes, restaurants, foods and  techniques. It was so much fun to go  through the pages and see what prominent chefs around the world liked, and with recipes and advice  to go with, it made their food more  accessible than a fancy dinner out.

I haven’t been cooking  a lot of pasta the past few years (I think in an attempt to cut down on carbs, but clearly I’ve made up for the lack of  pasta in other arenas) but when I saw this recipe I knew I had to try it. The recipe is from Sara Jenkins of Porchetta, but she was inspired  by Salvatore Denaro, a Sicilian born chef. Aside from my desire to visit Italy and immerse myself in the food and wine, the recipe appeared  fairly simple, with basic ingredients – always a plus!

Here’s the recipe:

SERVES 4—6

2 medium eggplants, cut into 3/4″ cubes

7 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 small yellow onion, minced

1 tsp. crushed red chile flakes

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 28-oz. can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, undrained and crushed by hand

16 fresh basil leaves, torn by hand

1 lb. bucatini or spaghetti

4 oz. ricotta salata, grated

Heat oven to 500º. Put eggplant into a bowl and drizzle with 4 tbsp. oil. Toss to combine and season with salt and pepper. Transfer eggplant to 2 baking sheets and bake, turning occasionally, until soft and caramelized, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack; set aside.

Heat remaining oil in a 5-qt. pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, until soft, about 10 minutes. Add chile flakes and garlic and cook, stirring, until garlic softens, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and half the basil, season with salt, and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until just al dente, about 9 minutes. Drain pasta and transfer to tomato sauce. Stir in reserved eggplant and toss to combine. Stir in remaining basil and season with salt. To serve, transfer pasta to a platter and garnish with ricotta salata.

This article was first published in Saveur in Issue #135

SAVEUR 100: Sara Jenkins’ Pasta Alla Norma (Pasta with Tomato Sauce and Eggplant) – Saveur.com.

I have never cooked with eggplant before and it’s not particularly tricky. Beth and I tasted it raw, and it has a bit of a peppery taste. I only used one (normal sized??) eggplant as it looked like a lot when I cut it up and put it on the tray, but I think I would use more the next time, particularly if I was serving more than 2 people (yes, I realize this is meant to be 4 servings… last night it served 2 just fine. Although we may or may not have been uncomfortably full after). Also I found that the larger pieces baked better, the smaller pieces came out a bit burnt.

Chopping the eggplant was easy, and preparing the onion and the garlic was simple as well. I was a bit shocked when I saw to use 5 cloves of garlic, but I didn’t find it overwhelming in the sauce. It was delish! I’ve also never used whole peeled tomatoes, and crushing them by hand was so much fun – it gave meaning to “hands on”! I had to take the bowl away from Beth before we had tomato paste! The San Marzano tomatoes were so nice – nothing like any canned tomatoes I’ve had before. Full of flavor and fresh tasting. They were definitely worth the extra couple bucks.

This recipe was so easy – once you have the ingredients in the pan for the sauce you just need to remember to start the water for the pasta. I also would recommend using a knife for the basil – the hand tearing didn’t really leave the basil in the sort of shape visually or size-wise that I’d want for a sauce. Just place all the leaves on top of each other, roll up, and the cut down the roll. Beth and I also thought that the sauce could use a bit more basil. I liked the addition of the red chile flakes, and Beth noted that it was the “perfect combination of spiciness and tomato.”

I also have to admit I didn’t find the ricotta salata. And I think cheese of some sort is necessary. We used a bit of white cheddar for the texture, but I certainly would like to use the ricotta salata or a parmesan.

This recipe was truly divine, you must try it!!! Also, for those of us on a budget, if you have the olive oil, the ingredients cost me only about $20!!!!

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