[We have a wander around Italy on the hunt for the most typical dishes of our heritage. Which you can also replicate at home, if you fancy. That’s right, because we’re also going to give you the recipe!]
We already spoke about the pitch-black volcanic rock here, but the historic city centre of Catania is no less black than the sands of Stromboli...
Mount Etna, the majestic volcano with its perennial plume, towers over it from above, blocking off the horizon to the north. A sentinel who is both beautiful and disturbing at the same time: every now and then she awakens, whereby the surrounding towns tremble and the city in the valley below (Catania) is covered in a layer of dark dust, a rain of ash.
However, Catania is used to cataclysms, having experienced numerous eruptions and earthquakes. With two terrible tremors, the 1693 earthquake razed the city to the ground. And to think that only 20 years previously, in 1669, a lava flow had reached the city... In short, a disaster.
This is why Catania was completely rebuilt in the late 17th century. And it is why the historic city centre is made up of a string of Baroque palaces (the style of the time), many of them black, having been built with lava stone, indestructible and beautiful, carved like lace.
On the other hand, the façade of the Teatro Massimo is not dark, but a pinkish-yellow colour. This opera house opened in 1890 with “Norma”, the opera by Vincenzo Bellini, whom the theatre was immediately dedicated to – the composer was originally from Catania, so in everyone’s mind it could only become the Teatro Bellini.
But Norma is not just the romantic heroine of Casta Diva (my musical references are a bit niche this time, I’m well aware...), but also one of the city’s most famous dishes, a variation on pasta al pomodoro, or pasta with tomato sauce.
Delicious, fried aubergines scented with basil add the finishing touches to one of the typical dishes of Sicilian cuisine, a recipe from Catania in particular.
A PERFECT PASTA ALLA NORMA
[preparation time: half an hour]
Ingredients [serves 4]
- 320g of short pasta (Rigatoni is perfect)
- 400g of passata or a tin of peeled tomatoes (the best you can find)
- 2 cloves of garlic
- A good deal of extra virgin olive oil (both for the sauce and for frying)
- A pinch of salt
- ½ tsp of sugar
- One large dark aubergine, must be fresh!
- 80g of Ricotta Salata cheese, grated (100g of Parmesan is fine as an alternative)
To make the tomato sauce, check out our recipe directly.
While the sauce is simmering, you should focus on the aubergines. Without peeling (the skin is important!), cut them into round slices of about half a centimetre thick. Purists, to avoid those bitter hints, we recommend sprinkling them with salt and leaving them to purge for about half an hour in a colander. Once purged, you should rinse them thoroughly (if not they’ll be too salty) and dry them completely (otherwise they’ll splash dangerously when they come into contact with the boiling oil).
Let me confess something: if the aubergines are fresh, firm and seedless, you can skip the purging step – but it’s better to keep this quiet.
In a high-sided pan, heat the oil and start frying the aubergines: add a few at a time, they shouldn’t overlap. The skin will remain intact and the inside should brown and soften.
Remove them from the heat little by little, place them on a sheet of kitchen roll and scent them with fresh basil leaves. Salt them (while they’re still hot), this should only be done if you skipped the purging step though. Otherwise they’ll have already absorbed enough salt...
In the meantime, boil some water for the pasta (1 litre per 100 grams). R E L I G I O U S L Y respect the cooking time of the pasta, drain and transfer into a large bowl.
Dress with plenty of tomato sauce, basil, Ricotta Salata and aubergine. The trick is to save some of the water used to cook the pasta, which can come in handy to give the sauce the right amount of moisture.
Red, basil-scented and with the poetry of those fried aubergines, your Norma is ready to serve (and enjoy!).
Buon appetito! 💗