The name of the dish is said to originate from the apocryphal exclamation by the Italian writer Nino Martoglio who, upon tasting the dish, exclaimed “This is a real ‘Norma‘!”, comparing it with the exceptional perfection of the Vincenzo Bellini opera Norma.
We obtained the recipe from Milk Street, but changed the penne pasta to gemelli, which gives a twist to the texture and captures more of the sauce in its curves. Feel free to use whatever pasta suits your fancy.
The eggplant is typically fried before being added to the sauce, but here it is roasted to concentrate the flavors and condense the porous texture. The eggplant is in the oven for about 30 minutes unattended, except for one toss; so use that time to prep the other ingredients, cook the pasta and simmer the tomatoes to make the sauce.
If you’ve never had ricotta salata, it is a firm cheese with a milky, salty flavor. Do not substitute fresh ricotta; a mild feta is a more appropriate substitute.
Don’t forget to reserve about ½ cup of the pasta cooking water before draining. You’ll need the starchy, salted liquid to help bring together the eggplant, pasta and sauce during the final simmer.
½ cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
2 oz. ricotta salata, shredded
Heat the oven to 475°F with a rack in the upper-middle position. Line a rimmed baking sheet with kitchen parchment.
In a large bowl, toss the eggplant with 1½ teaspoons salt and 4 tablespoons of the oil. Spread in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet and roast until browned and tender, 30 to 35 minutes, stirring once.
Meanwhile, in a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Stir in the pasta and 2 tablespoons salt; cook until the pasta is al dente. Reserve about ½ cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta.
While the eggplant roasts and the water heats, in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil until shimmering. Add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add the tomatoes and 1½ teaspoons salt, then cover and cook, occasionally shaking the pan, until the tomatoes begin to release their liquid, about 1 minute.
Stir in the vinegar, then use the back of a large spoon to crush the tomatoes. Cover, reduce to medium and cook, stirring, until the mixture breaks down into a lightly thickened sauce, 8 to 9 minutes.
Add the drained pasta, eggplant and ¼ cup of the reserved pasta water to the tomatoes. Cook over medium, stirring constantly, until the sauce begins to cling to the pasta, 2 to 3 minutes.
Taste and season with salt. Stir in half of the basil and transfer to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with the remaining basil and the ricotta salata.
What to do for dinner in late-summer/early-fall with an abundance of grape tomatoes and fresh herbs? Well that would be Skillet Burst Grape Tomato Casarecce with Lemony Breadcrumbs. It’s a very simple pan roasted grape tomato pasta with white wine, garlic, fresh herbs, topped with the most crunchy lemony breadcrumbs, and finished with luscious burrata cheese.
This perfect late-summer dinner is ready in under 30 minutes using basic pantry staples and end-of-season garden bounty. If you’ve never used it, Casarecce pasta is a very narrow, twisted, and rolled tube, almost resembling a scroll. If you can’t find it, substitute a similar twisted, tubular pasta like cavatappi, cavatelli, gemelli, or fusilli.
If you have any leftovers, keep the bread crumbs and buratta separate. When ready to eat, reheat the pasta in a microwave for a few minutes, then top with crumbs and cheese.
Skillet Burst Grape Tomato Casarecce with Lemony Breadcrumbs
1 pound casarecce pasta, or other twisted tubular pasta
1 1/4 lbs. red and yellow grape tomatoes
6-8 cloves garlic, smashed
2 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup manchego cheese, grated
2 cups fresh basil, roughly chopped
2 balls fresh burrata cheese, each ball split in two
In a large skillet set over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil. When the oil shimmers, add the bread, a pinch of red pepper flakes and pinch of kosher salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until golden and toasted all over, about 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon zest. Slide bread crumbs onto a plate. Wipe the skillet clean.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente. Just before draining, remove 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain.
Meanwhile, place the same skillet used for the bread over high heat and add the remaining olive oil. When the oil shimmers, add the tomatoes, garlic, thyme, and oregano, and a pinch each of salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook until the tomatoes begin to pop, about 4-5 minutes. Pour in the wine, cook 1 minute.
Add the pasta and a splash of the pasta cooking water to the skillet, tossing to combine. Remove from the heat and add the manchego cheese and basil, toss to combine. If needed, thin the pasta sauce with a little of the reserved cooking water.
Divide the pasta among shallow bowls, nestle in half a burrata ball, and top with bread crumbs.
Tomatoes are another summer staple that explodes with a variety of luscious choices by season’s end. In fact, every year in our raised bed herb garden we are fortunate to get several “bonus plants” compliments of seed from our compost.
Fresh, snappy late-summer beans are a fleeting pleasure on their own, but jazz them up with the sweet acidity of grape tomatoes and crackly breadcrumbs, you’ve got a winning combination. The layers of colors (especially if you include yellow wax beans) and crisp and juicy textures effortlessly upgrade any main, such as our herb-marinated grilled bone-in pork chops.
As soon as I eyeballed this recipe in our latest Martha Stewart Living magazine, I knew it was going to make an appearance on our dining table within days. Unfortunately I could not access any yellow wax beans, so instead I used a combination of red and yellow grape tomatoes for that tri-color effect.
A few weeks earlier we made bead crumbs from some leftover crusty bread and put it in the freeze until such time we would need them again. Well this seemed like the perfect occasion, although the crumb was much finer than asked for here, still we went ahead with the recipe and it was great! They were a side dish to those grilled pork chops, but hardly played second fiddle.
12 oz. green beans and/or yellow wax beans, trimmed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 slices rustic bread (5 ounces), crusts removed, torn into large pieces
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
10 oz. cocktail tomatoes or large cherry tomatoes, or a combination, halved
1 oz. Manchego cheese, finely grated (1/4 cup)
Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add beans and cook until bright green and crisp-tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Drain and transfer to a serving platter; lightly drizzle with oil.
Pulse bread in a food processor until coarse crumbs form (you should have 2 cups). In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil and butter over medium. Add breadcrumbs and season with salt and pepper; cook, stirring, until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in skillet over medium-high. Add tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in breadcrumbs. Top beans with warm tomato mixture. Sprinkle with cheese; serve.