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Pasta alla Norma, and the opera behind it

Pasta alla Norma is a very typical sicilian pasta recipe with tomato and eggplant; very old and an icon of the city of Catania. When it comes to pasta alla Norma, one can imagine that there could be a connection between Vincenzo Bellini, the opera composer, and the Sicilian capital built right next to mount Etna. It is said that many years ago, a few artists who were performing Bellini's Norma opera that night, were served this simple and sublime dish of pasta with tomato sauce and fried eggplant. The awe of the artists was so great that apparently at the end of their meal they shouted: "But this is Norma!" linking the delicious taste of the dish to the female druid princess from this opera... This couldn't have been said in better circumstances as this shout from these artists struck a very sensitive cord with the pride that the city of Catania has for Bellini's Norma opera; so this meal became 'alla Norma', the celtic goddess...

For Catania this name/dish combination is now a symbol of perfection, greatness, uniqueness.  But the recipe in itself isn't that different from others found elsewhere; what makes it special is that extra final touch from Catania: the final sprinkling of ricotta salata over each plate. Some also use dressing with cheese or parmesan cheese, but, to me ricotta salata is irreplaceable. Many variants of this recipe exist, give or take a few ingredients from the original recipe, but this gives us another chance to appreciate even more the original. A real good, and special sicilian dish!


Ingredients:

Linguine alla Norma
1 pound of your favorite pasta
1 pound ripe tomatoes
4 fresh eggplants (or use caponata)
Some fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
oil for frying , and extra-virgin oil for the recipe
Ricotta salata, or mild feta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Cooking instructions:

1) In a heavy skillet, saute the garlic, previously cut into small bits, then add the  tomatoes, washed and cut into small pieces adding a a few fresh chopped basil leaves.  Season with salt and pepper and simmer over low heat.

2) When the tomatoes are cooked but not yet liquefied, take away from heat, drain and reserve the sauce for later.

3) Rinse the eggplants, remove the stalk from the eggplant, peel a strip of skin just by cutting a vertical cut from one end to the other (all the eggplant skin must remain, just this strip comes off). At this point we decide if we are to cut the eggplants into slices or cubes, I prefer fried eggplant slices, but the outcome will be the same, then fry the eggplant in about 1/2 inch hot oil.  Once fried place them on paper towels to drain the excess oil from them.

4) Cook the pasta al dente, then drain; Mix the pasta with the tomato sauce then serve, arranging on each plate some pasta, then some ricotta salata over it, then the fried eggplants on top, finishing with a few basil leaves to decorate.

Pasta alla Norma, a dish with a special sense of italian drama!




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