Eggplant, garlic, anchovies, red pepper flakes, tomatoes, fresh basil, Pecorino cheese. When I read the list of ingredients for this Pasta alla Norma recipe, my mouth began to water as I imagined the various flavors melding and marrying with one another.
I pictured the anchovies’ tongue-twistingly salty funk mellowed by the zesty tomato sauce, the bold punches of garlic and red pepper flakes elevating the flavor profile, and of course, the fresh basil adding an herbaceous freshness like only it can. As vivid as my imagination is, tasting the Pasta alla Norma in all its finished glory was even better and brighter than I could’ve imagined. It’s an assertive tomato sauce with interest and intrigue.
Because my tastes veer toward the bolder end of the spectrum, I upped the number of anchovies from the two fillets called for in the original recipe to an entire can’s worth—I’m crazy like that. The recipe below does not reflect this significant tweak.
- 1 large eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1/2-inch chunks
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 anchovy fillets, rinsed and minced
- 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
- 1/4 cup grated Pecorino cheese
- 1 pound chunky pasta
Line a large microwave-safe plate with a double layer of plain white paper towels and lightly spray with vegetable oil spray. Toss the eggplant with 1/2 teaspoon salt and spread evenly over the plate.
Microwave the eggplant on high until dry to the touch and slightly shriveled, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.
Gently toss the cooled eggplant with 1 1/2 teaspoons of the oil in a bowl. Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons more oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the eggplant and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Add the remaining tablespoon oil, garlic, anchovies, and red pepper flakes to the skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the garlic is fragrant and lightly browned, about 1 minute.
Stir in the tomatoes, bring to a simmer, and cook until slightly thickened, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the eggplant and simmer until it is heated through, 3 to 5 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the basil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Before serving, add reserved cooking water from pasta as needed to loosen the sauce.
Serve over al dente pasta and sprinkle with cheese.