Pasta alla Norma

3:10 pm on 24 February 2012

(Serves 4-6)

Ingredients

  • 75ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 small 'bird's eye' chillies, crushed
  • 2 x 400g cans Italian tomatoes, mashed
  • 1 Tbsp tomato concentrate
  • Salt
  • 2 medium eggplants
  • Sea salt
  • olive oil for frying
  • 500g Italian spaghetti
  • ½ cup grated pecorino Romano cheese, plus extra for serving

Method

1. Put the extra virgin olive oil in a saucepan with the garlic. Cook a few minutes until fragrant then add the chillies, if using, and cook 1 minute. Tip in the tomatoes and mix in the tomato concentrate and ½ tsp salt. Rinse the tomato cans with a little water (use a little less than ¾-cup water), and add the tomato water to the saucepan.

2. Bring sauce to the boil, then cook gently, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, or until reduced and pulpy; don't let the sauce reduce over a fierce heat or it will lose its sweetness.

3. Trim eggplants and cut into rounds about half a centimetre thick. Have ready a heavy-based or ridged frying pan heated on medium-high. Dunk slices of eggplant in a olive oil and transfer to hot pan. Cook until a deep golden brown, slightly charred, and tender and creamy. Transfer to a plate and sprinkle with sea salt.

4. When the sauce and eggplants are ready (both can be prepared in advance), cook spaghetti in plenty of gently boiling well-salted water until just al dente. Spaghetti is one of the easiest pastas to overcook. My advice is to test it several times throughout the cooking and to stop the cooking and drain it just before it is al dente; it needs to have plenty of bounce left in it to make a memorable dish.

5. Tip spaghetti into a large heated serving bowl - you need a generous bowl to be able to mix everything thoroughly. Tip on three-quarters of the sauce and add the pecorino Romano. Toss well, then mix in the eggplant slices and toss again. The eggplant should break apart a bit and the whole dish should look gloriously messy with globs of sauce and chunks of inky-black eggplant and wild strands of spaghetti refusing to stop wriggling. Mamma Mia! Spoon the rest of the sauce on top and rush it to the table to hungry diners. Serve with more cheese.

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm

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