This is a wonderful pasta dish from the Sicilian region of Italy, but there is a unique spin on it in this recipe. If you want to make it the “traditional” way, I have added a few notes in this recipe to guide you. The name of the dish is said to originate from the exclamation by the Italian writer, Nino Martoglio, who, upon tasting the original dish, exclaimed "This is a real 'Norma'!", comparing it with the exceptional perfection of the Vincenzo Bellini opera of that name – “Norma”. We absolutely love this pasta dish because it features eggplant, which is one of the wonderful vegetables that we grow in our home garden.
It will be important to use either a deep fryer, or a large Dutch oven or pot that is safe for frying on the top of the stove to prepare this terrific pasta dish!
1 Eggplant, sliced into ¼-inch slices
Vegetable Oil to fill your deep fryer sufficiently (following the directions on how to fill it) or your Dutch oven (or other pot that is safe to use for frying on the top of the stove) about 30-50% full. As a guide, I normally use about 1 gallon of vegetable oil in my deep fryer
2 ounces of Pancetta, diced, which is not a traditional ingredient, but it adds some great flavor
1 tablespoon of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup of Marinara Sauce
2 cloves of Garlic, minced
2 tablespoons of Red Onion, minced
¼ cup of dry White Wine
¼ teaspoon of dried Italian Seasoning
¼ teaspoon of Red Chili Flakes
½ pound of dry Pasta such as Penne or Mostaccioli
¼-½ cup of All-Purpose Flour -- the exact quantity will vary depending on this size of the eggplant
3 tablespoons of Pecorino Romano, grated, although tradition of making this dish would suggest that ricotta salata be used
6 Basil leaves
Salt and Black Pepper, freshly ground
Place the slices of the eggplant in a colander and sprinkle them with salt to remove some of the liquid. Leave the eggplant for an hour and then turn the eggplant slices over. Salt the second side and leave them to drain again in the colander. Rinse the eggplant slices well to remove the salt and cut the eggplant into ¼-inch cubes. Set the eggplant slices aside on a paper towel.
Heat up the deep fryer (or the Dutch oven or other pot designed for fying) with the vegetable oil in it and bring the oil to 365 to 370 degrees F. While the oil is heating, put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Add a few tablespoons of salt to the water. Coat the eggplant cubes in the flour and shake them off to get the excess flour off. Moving in 3 or 4 batches, put ⅓ or ¼ of the floured eggplant into the hot oil and fry until light and crispy.
Carefully remove the eggplant from the oil and place on a paper towel and sprinkle immediately with salt and pepper. Repeat this step until all the eggplant has been fried. Turn the deep fryer off (or turn the heat off on the oil in the pot on the top of the stove). Be careful when you are working with hot oil; let it cool before moving it.
In a large sauté pan, cook the diced pancetta until it is crisp. Remove the pancetta from the pan and set it aside. Add the olive oil, the garlic, and the red onion to the same pan, and cook them until translucent. Add the marinara sauce, the white wine, the Italian seasoning, and the red chili flakes, and turn the heat to a medium-low. Once the pasta water is boiling, add the pasta to the water, and follow the directions on the package in terms of the length of time to cook the pasta. Once it is cooked “al dente”, save about 1 cup of the pasta water, and then strain the pasta in a colander. Add the pasta to the sauté pan with the sauce and toss it to coat the pasta with the sauce. If there is not enough sauce, or it is getting dry, add some of the reserved pasta water to it. Add the diced pancetta, the fried eggplant, and half of the cheese and toss together in the pan for a few minutes. Move the pasta to a serving bowl, and top with the basil leaves and the remaining cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.