I became an honorary Sicilian the other day.
How, you ask me?
I married a man who was born in Sicily.
I carried two half-Sicilian children in my womb for eighteen months (that is 9 x 2, I am not an elephant. Yet.).
I made something that is so second nature to a Sicilian that they wouldn't think twice about it, like when you lock your front door and don't remember doing it.
I deep-fried eggplant.
So what is the big deal?
Well, first of all, deep frying has always scared the bejesus out of me. I do not deep fry anything. Ever. But I decided that now that I have a food blog I have to face up to my fears and tread into the unknown. Secondly, I have been eating my mother in law's fried eggplant for the last 16 years and it somehow never occured to me I could make it myself.
I had one, lonely eggplant in my fridge. I couldn't come up with any ideas and I wanted to make something quick on a week night. What else is new? I decided to make pasta alla Norma. Pasta with a simple, garlic-based tomato sauce, fried eggplant and ricotta salata (see below) sprinkled over it. The dish, which seems to have originated in Catania, was dedicated to the composer Vincenzo Bellini (from this city) and his best-known opera La Norma.
So chop, chop. chop and fry, fry, fry I went.
Result? It had to be good because my DH, who was presumably already drinking fried eggplant in his bottle, said it was perfect, or to be more accurate, perfetta!
Ingredients (4 large servings)
1 tin crushed tomatoes (or fresh tomatoes in summer)
a few cloves of garlic
1/2 kg pasta (1 package)
grated ricotta salata (or parmesan cheese)
Slice the eggplant horizontally into 1 cm discs and then dice it. Place it in a colander and sprinkle with salt to get rid of moisture and so there is no risk of a bitter aftertaste. My mother in law prefers using the light purple eggplant variety when she can find it. Start heating the vegetable oil in a large sauce pan and throw in the eggplant when it is very hot. The oil should sizzle and bubble when you drop a piece in and the eggplant should not absorb the oil. Start frying in at least two batches, since you don't want to overcrowd the pan. It took longer than I expected it to, so don't worry if it doesn't brown immediately. Be patient, there is nothing worse than undercooked eggplant. In the meantime, bring a pot of water to a boil and brown some garlic in another pan with olive oil. Add in the tinned tomatoes, a pinch of salt and some pepper. When the eggplant is ready, take it out with a slotted spoon and let it rest on several sheets of paper towel to absorb the excess oil, the longer the better. My mother in law often does this several hours in advance. When the pasta water comes to a boil, throw in the pasta. When ready, drain and mix in tomato sauce and serve. Sprinkle a generous helping of diced eggplant onto each plate, a little pepper and plenty of grated ricotta salata, which is simply aged ricotta that has been pressed, dried and salted. It is hard, white and salty tasting.