Pasta alla Norma

We are all of us stars, and we deserve to twinkle.
Norma Jeane Mortenson aka Marilyn Monroe
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Lets face it, eggplant isn’t always pretty, but boy can it be delicious no matter the cuisine and while I have several go to recipes, I inevitably fall back on a simple pasta dish that many chefs and kitchen cooks make, but any pasta alla Norma can benefit from your own little tweaks so such an easy bowl of pasta for 2 because I had 3 small eggplants to use and because I couldn’t retrieve the mini springform pans for my spaghetti pie, but it moved to another night…

I called on a Jaime Oliver recipe this evening just because I was intrigued with his use of basil stems, what basil stems?  Well, thank you Jaime, but that didn’t quite work out for me since the stems were so tough even when smashed with the flat of a knife that I just tossed the stems into the eggplant and removed them from the sauce.  Oh well, one obstacle hurdled.  The rest of the recipe was just fine and with the addition of 2 anchovies to my “sauce”, red pepper flakes and minced parsley, I was pretty pleased with the outcome.  A very adaptable recipe…

* 2 large, firm eggplants (I prefer smaller eggplants as they are not son seedy and less bitter)
* extra-virgin olive oil
* 1 tablespoon dried oregano
* optional: 1 dried red chili, crumbled or red pepper flakes to taste
* 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
* a large bunch of fresh basil, stems finely chopped, leaves reserved
* 1 teaspoon good herb or white wine or Rosso vinegar
* 2 14-ounce cans of good-quality chopped plum tomatoes, or 3 cups homemade sauce
* sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 1 pound dried spaghetti
1 Parmigiano or Romano cheese rind to cook with the sauce
* 6 ounces salted ricotta, pecorino, or Parmesan cheese, grated for the finished bowl of pasta

Preparation
Prep your nice firm eggplants by cutting them into quarters lengthwise. If they’ve got seedy, fluffy centers, remove them and chuck them away. Then cut the eggplants across the length, into finger-sized pieces. Get a large nonstick pan nice and hot and add a little oil. Fry the eggplants in two batches, adding a little extra oil if you need to. Give the eggplants a toss so the oil coats every single piece and then sprinkle with some of the dried oregano—this will make them taste fantastic. Using a pair of tongs, turn the pieces of eggplant until golden on all sides. Remove to a plate and do the same with the second batch.

When the eggplants are all cooked, add the first batch back to the pan—at this point I sometimes add a sneaky dried red chili. Turn the heat down to medium and add a little oil, the garlic, and the basil stems. Stir so everything gets evenly cooked, then add a swig of herb vinegar and the cans of tomatoes, which you can chop or whiz up. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, then taste and correct the seasoning. Tear up half the basil leaves, add to the sauce, and toss around.

Cook spaghetti according to the package instructions – al dente, drain it, reserving a little of the cooking water, and put it back into the pan. Add the sauce and a little of the reserved cooking water and toss together back on the heat. Taste, and adjust the seasoning.  Any sauce left in the pan can be spooned over the top. Sprinkle with the remaining basil, grated cheese, and oil.

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