They were waiting in the fridge. I checked them and, ugh, I could feel a squishy bit. Had I trusted the cooling properties of the fridge a day too long? Was I about to lose my aubergines to poor planning? Flip.
Just in the nick of time, I got my little hands on them, diced them, added some salt and threw the spongy cubes into my hot Pyrex dish with a splash of Rapeseed oil to roast while I vegged out on the sofa.
My super organised plan of making a lasagne or fiddly oven bake were out the window. What now? Well, anything, really. Aubergines are really easy to work with. I much prefer them grilled, with only a hint of oil. I like slicing them, arranging them on a plate, adding some salt and watching the little beads of liquid start to appear on the surface. A drop of oil in a smoking hot frying pan is all that’s needed to grill the aubergines to smokey perfection. Alternatively, roasting them until they’re just catching at the edges yields similar results with less standing and far less sweat.
My version of pasta alla Norma has two parts. I made pasta for two, knowing that I’d be eating all of it, so initially I made it with what I had in the cupboard and fridge. Second part had chili flakes and fresh basil. Oh so fancy! I rarely use fresh herbs because my budget won’t always allow and my experience with potted herbs isn’t stellar. My last parsley plant lasted 2 months. I rely on dried herbs. But dried and fresh basil are two different beasts completely. There is no contest. Fresh basil, TKO.
I used mozzarella in this. Make of it what you will. It’s not typical, but I love heating it until it becomes soft and stringy, and, for me, with the heavy aubergines and thick tomato sauce, the creamy cheese adds balance. Traditionally, it’s served with grated ricotta salata, or you could use Parmesan, Grana Padano or Pecorino.
Pasta alla Norma
100g dried pasta, the short variety, rigatoni or shells work well here
1 medium-sized aubergine
3 tablespoons rapeseed oil or olive oil (for roasting)
2 tablespoons olive oil (for the sauce)
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
A pinch of dried oregano
A dash of white wine vinegar or a squeeze of lemon juice
A pinch of chili flakes
Half a ball of mozzarella, about 70g, optional
4-5 fresh basil leaves
50g hard cheese of your choice, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
Pre-heat the oven to roast the aubergines. Dice the aubergine into 2cm cubes and add some salt. Add some rapeseed or olive oil to the oven dish and roast until dark brown and soft. This will take about 40 minutes at 170°C (fan). If you prefer, slice the aubergine into 1cm circles, season, and grill or fry in olive oil. Keep ’em warm and carry on.
Get the water on for the pasta. Cook according to packet instructions. While that’s happening, start the sauce like the multitasking genius that you are.
Add the olive oil to a generous sized frying pan and fry the garlic until it’s golden. But not burnt. Or everything will tasted of burnt garlic. Bleurgh.
Turn down the heat a bit and add the passata. There may be splutters and splashes so stand back. And don’t wear a white shirt making this either. Let’s aim for less washing up all round, yes? Good.
Check the seasoning. It’ll need some pepper. Add the oregano, chili flakes and vinegar or lemon juice. Leave this to bubble away on a medium-low heat.
When the aubergine cubes are done, add them to the sauce and fold them in. Check the seasoning again. When the pasta is al dente, add them to the sauce. Using a slotted spoon works well here, transfer them from pot to pan, and stir.
Add the mozzarella, if you’re using it, and watch go melty. Add torn basil leaves, grated cheese and finish with a tiny basil leaf because it looks fancy. Go on, treat yourself.