This is a Sicilian recipe that my Aunt Lena, who married a Sicilian, used to make. She called it simply “rigatoni with eggplant.” I didn’t learn that it was formally known as “Pasta alla Norma” until I was an adult. It was named for the heroine in Bellini’s Norma.
* Ricotta salata comes in 2 types – fresh for eating and dry for grating. If you can’t get it, use parmigiana.
Slice the eggplant into about 1/2-inch rounds (don’t peel it). Salt and drain it. Cook it over medium-high heat in a pot, in olive oil adding more oil as needed. Do it in batches so it doesn’t crowd. Cook it until it’s browned and soft. Don’t worry about a few burnt edges – that adds flavor. Move it to a plate and don’t drain it or put it on paper towels.
Using the same pot the eggplant was cooked in, add some oil and on medium heat fry garlic with salt, black pepper and red pepper. After a few minutes when the garlic begins to color, add the tomatoes. Cook for about 20-25 minutes on medium. Taste for seasoning.
Cook the pasta until almost done. Cut the eggplant into approximately 1-inch pieces (they’ll be irregularly shaped and that’s OK) and add to the tomato sauce.
Gently stir it in. Drain the almost cooked pasta (saving a cup of pasta water in case the sauce is too dry) and toss it with the sauce. Again, gently, so the eggplant doesn’t break up too much. Serve with freshly grated ricotta salada.
There’s a pizzeria/Italian restaurant called Capone’s on North Ocean Drive in Hollywood Beach, Florida. The last time I was there I had this and gave it a try at home. It was easy and worked out perfectly. I’m not sure what they call it on their menu but it looks like a sandwich.
Cut the ends off the eggplant and slice vertically. Discard the first and last slice which will be mostly skin. You need 9 slices to make 3 sandwiches.
Beat the eggs with some salt and black pepper. Dip the eggplant slices in the egg wash and then in the breadcrumbs. Fry them in oil until deep brown. Drain on paper towels and let them cool.
To make the sandwiches –
Start with a slice of eggplant and cover with mozzarella. Add another slice of eggplant and cover with one layer of sliced tomato. Add another slice of eggplant and cover with more grated mozzarella.
Place the 3 sandwiches on a baking sheet and cook in a pre-heated 300o oven for 15 minutes or until the cheese melts. When done, sprinkle with the parsley and drizzle with a little balsamic and some olive oil.
It might look like a triple-decker sandwich but serve it with a fork and knife.
Caponata I’ll call this caponata for the sake of the search engines but in our dialect it’s gabaladine. It’s a standard component of any good antipasto. This is my Aunt’s recipe which she passed on to my daughter Kristina. My sister Nicki precisely measured all of the ingredients so I’ll turn it over to her.
Her given name was Celeste; we called her Aunt Tootsie, Grandma called her “Toots”. Aunt Tootsie lived with Grandma her whole life (even after she married, twice). Living with Grandma had its advantages for her because she cooked just like Grandma, which was excellent. We would go “over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house”, which was in Brooklyn for a holiday or special occasion and Aunt Tootsie did all the cooking under Grandma’s supervision. She always had the phonograph on, singing along with Jimmy Roselli and Louis Prima. She would belt out, “Ti voglio bene” at any given moment. Here is her recipe for caponata.
1 eggplant, unpeeled and cubed
¾ cup olive oil
2 red bell peppers, sliced
2 medium onions, sliced
4 stalks celery, cut into 1/4″ pieces
2 tablespoons capers
½ cup pignoli (pine nuts)
¼ cup red wine vinegar
½ pound Kalamata olives (pitted and halved)
¼ cup tomato paste
½ cup water
2 tablespoons Sugar
Fry the eggplant in 1/2 cup of olive oil in a large frying pan. Cook until brown and set pan aside.
Add 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil to another pan and sauté the red peppers until tender then add it to the pan with the eggplant.
Add the remaining olive oil to the pan and sauté the onions and celery until soft.
Add the capers and give it a quick mix with the vegetables.
Add the tomato paste, sugar, water and vinegar. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add to the eggplant and peppers.
Add the pignoli nuts and olives and cook for 5 minutes, stir to blend the flavors.
Note that salt is not included in this recipe. The capers and olives are salty. When it is cooked – TASTE and then add salt and pepper to taste.
Cool before serving. Caponata will keep for 2 weeks in the refrigerator. I’m sure it will not be in the refrig for that long. It is so delicious it will not be left over.