Spaghetti Alla Norma
- 2 medium eggplants
- 75ml extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 small 'bird's eye' chillies, crushed
- 2 x 400g cans Italian tomatoes, mashed
- 1 Tbsp tomato concentrate
- Olive oil for frying
- 500g Italian spaghetti
- ½ cup grated pecorino Romano cheese, plus extra for serving
If using eggplants grown outdoors, trim them and cut into rounds about half a centimetre thick. Sprinkle with salt and layer them in a colander. Leave to drain for 45 minutes.
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 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Rinse the tomato cans with a little water, using a little less than 3/4 cup water in total, and add the tomato water to the saucepan.
Bring the 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.
Pat the eggplant slices dry with kitchen paper. Heat 3/4 cup olive oil in a medium frying pan over a medium-high heat until just starting to haze. Carefully slide in as many slices of eggplant as will fit in one layer and cook until a rich golden brown on both sides. Transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper and sprinkle lightly with salt. Repeat with the rest of the eggplant slices. (If the eggplant slices absorb a lot of oil, drain them on a rack, as described in the recipe Eggplant Trapani-style.)
When the sauce and the eggplant are ready (both can be prepared in advance), cook the 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 before it is al dente; it needs to have plenty of bounce left in it to make a memorable dish.
Tip it 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.