Baked Pasta Alla Norma (Eggplant Pasta)

Pasta Alla Norma is one of Sicily’s most iconic dishes – a fresh tasting combination of pasta, crushed tomato, garlic, eggplant, basil and cheese. Pasta Alla Norma translates wonderfully to being a baked dish and tastes even better the next day. If you like eggplant parmesan, you’ll love this (and it’s lighter, too)! I’ve also included steps for the one true way to keep eggplant from getting bitter, and also a recipe for my own simple Italian pasta sauce. The key to a fresh tasting pasta recipe is to keep it simple and make things from scratch. It’s worth it!

Time: 75 minutes
Yield: 4-6 servings (we can be pretty hungry in this house)

Ingredients:
1 medium eggplant
1 tbsp olive oil
spray oil
3 cups prepared pasta sauce* (use your favorite recipe or my recipe is below)
table salt
1 800g (28 oz) can of crushed tomato
500g (1 lb) uncooked penne or rigatoni pasta
2.5 cups of mozzarella cheese
grated Parmesan cheese for serving

Instructions:
1. Slice the eggplant about 1cm (1/4 inch) thick. Lay out the slices on a cutting board and sprinkle evenly and lightly with salt. Flip the pieces and salt the other side as well.

2. After about 20 mins have passed since salting the eggplant, rinse the eggplant in a collander and let it drain for 15 mins. Preheat the oven in the meantime to 180C (350F) and start to boil the pasta water.

3. Line a baking tray (cookie sheet) with foil and a thin coating of spray oil. Lay out the eggplant pieces side by side. Spray the tops of the pieces lightly with spray oil as well. Bake for 180C (350F) for 20 mins or until brown and cooked through.

4. While the eggplant is baking you can make the pasta. Cooking time for the pasta depends on the type you’re using.

5. When the pasta is done, mix it with the sauce.

6. In a large baking dish, layer the ingredients as such: Layer 1: 1/2 of the pasta topped with 1 cup of the cheese. Layer 2: 2nd half of the pasta. Layer 3: Cover with eggplant slices and top with 1.5 cups of mozzarella cheese. Bake in a 180C oven for 30 minutes or until cheese on top is browned and bubbly.

7. Let it cool for 15 minutes and serve with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese

*Pasta sauce:

Time: 30-45 minutes
Yield: 3 cups

Ingredients:
800g (28oz) tin of crushed tomato
1 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, chopped coarsely
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil

Instructions:
1. Sauté the garlic and herbs in 1 tbsp olive oil on medium heat until the garlic is slightly browned, about 10 mins.
2. Pour in the crushed tomato. Add a light sprinkle of chilli flakes if you want a spicier sauce. If not, leave it out. Cook on medium heat for about 30-45 minutes, stirring regularly.