I was standing the kitchen of the beautiful home where I was staying on vacation in Sicily, watching the cook teach us how to make this dish, in the true Sicilian way. Her english was broken and our Italian was limited, but somehow none of that mattered. The dish came together beautifully, despite the few words that were ever spoken between us. When I came home, I wanted to hold onto the memories of that day, and that experience in that kitchen by creating my own version of pasta all a Norma. Mine is made slightly healthier by using whole-wheat pasta and by roasting the eggplant instead of frying it but the simplicity of the dish makes it perfect no matter how you prepare it.
1/2 medium eggplant, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus extra for drizzling
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 small garlic clove, finely minced
1-2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh basil
2 ounces whole-wheat spaghetti
1-2 tablespoons ricotta salata or Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
1. Place eggplant slices in a bowl of water with about 1 tablespoon salt. Cover with a plate to make sure eggplant stay submerged under water. Allow to sit for about 30 minutes, or up to 1 hour.
2. Preheat oven to 425°F. Remove eggplant from water and pat dry; roughly chop into bite-sized pieces. Place eggplant on a baking sheet and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes, turning occasionally until eggplant is softened.
3. Purée tomatoes in a blender until almost smooth. Set aside.
4. In a medium sauté pan, heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes, taking care not to let it burn. Add tomato sauce and season with salt and pepper. Add 1 teaspoon sugar and stir (add more sugar if you want sauce a little sweeter). Add basil and stir again. Simmer sauce over low heat.
5. Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook for 7-10 minutes, until al dente. When pasta is done, drain and add to pan with sauce and toss to combine.
6. Transfer pasta and sauce to serving bowl and top with roasted eggplant. Top with freshly grated cheese and a drizzle of olive oil and serve.