Penne alla Norma Recipe
Penne alla Norma is a savory, spicy summer pasta dish. Use garden fresh heirloom tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and herbs and prepare it on a grill, and you'll have a wonderful summer treat. This recipe is inspired by a dish of the same name from the Asheville restaurant La Caterina Trattoria. It is an excellent vegetarian complement to Salsice Pasta Rustico and can be prepared at the same time, using many of the same ingredients.
Penne alla Norma
serves three to four
- 1/2 pound dried penne pasta
- 1 large eggplant
- 1 cup crumbled ricotta salata cheese
- 2 small heirloom tomatoes
- 1 small red pepper
- 1 small yellow pepper
- 1/2 cup minced onion
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 tbsp olive oil
[Ingredient Note: Ricotta Salata is a firm, crumbly cheese with a consistency similar to Greek feta but with a much more delicate flavor.]
1. One to two hours before you plan on cooking, slice the eggplant lengthwise into thick filets (about 1/2-3/4 inches thick). Rub either side of the filets with salt and stack them into two stacks with the peel facing up. Sandwich the stacks between two plates or on a drain board and place something heavy on top to press them. This step removes the bitter juice within the eggplant.
2. Prepare a grill for grilling. This recipe lends itself well to a charcoal or gas grill--a wood fire is too smoky and would overpower the delicate flavors.
3. While the grill is heating, boil 2 quarts of water in a large pot and cook pasta as specified on the package.
4. While the pasta is boiling, finely mince the onion, crush the garlic, and combine the two with the salt, red pepper, and olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat (medium low on a gas stove). Sauté the onion mixture until the onions become translucent, then set the pan aside.
5. Wash the tomatoes. Wash, core, and quarter the peppers. Rinse the salt and bitter juices off of the eggplant filets, pat them dry with paper towels, and rub them with olive oil.
6. Once the grill is hot, place the eggplant, pepper quarters, and whole tomatoes on the grill. Make sure that the tomatoes and peppers are over direct flame. Allow the eggplant to cook for as long as possible away from direct flame. You want to aim for browned eggplant with grill marks and some crispness around the edges but a soft, brown interior. The tomatoes and pepper should have blackened skin. Carefully rotate the tomatoes to cook on both sides--they will start to fall apart towards the end.
7. While the vegetables are grilling, drain the pasta and combine it in the pot or in a large bowl with the fresh herbs and the olive oil and cooked onion mixture. Stir it well to insure that the pasta does not stick to itself.
8. Once the grilling is complete, chop the eggplant into chunks and add to the pasta. Peel off the blackened skin from the peppers and tomatoes. Chop the peppers and add to the pasta. Squeeze the tomatoes in a strainer or colander to remove excess moisture and seeds. Mash the tomato pulp, making sure to remove any stems or cores. Add the mashed, drained pulp to the pasta.
9. Making sure that the pasta is hot, add the ricotta salata cheese and stir gently so that it incorporates into the mixture without breaking up the pasta.
10. Garnish with parsley and freshly grated Romano cheese and serve immediately. This dish tastes great with a robust Italian red wine.