Prep Time: 25 mins
Cook Time: 1 hr
Come late summer when eggplants are at peak season this spaghetti alla norma is a go to dish for me. As a matter of fact it might be one of my favorite pastas. I will challenge any enemy of the eggplant with this smooth and flavorful sauce.
Using a store-bought globe eggplant will definitely work. But a late-summer homegrown or farmers market eggplant will turn this so creamy you won't believe it's a vegetable. My favorite is the Annina eggplant, which I grow every year in my garden. They have a low seed count and exceptionally tender flesh with a beautiful light purple skin. Contrary to other fruits and vegetables, when picking out eggplants you want to reach for ones that have a tough skin with only a little give when pressed.
For those skeptical of walnuts in pasta, I urge you to take the plunge. Similar to pesto, it adds a nutty thickness that soothes out the acidic tomato. If you want it even smoother you can toss the walnuts into a food processor and grind until very fine.
Enjoy the height of summer by indulging in this Sicilian dish. Serve with a light cucumber-tomato salad.
Spaghetti Alla Norma
- 8 oz dried spaghetti
- 1 medium eggplant, (or two small ones, preferably fresh and in-season, diced)
- 1 small onion, (peeled and diced finely)
- 3 cloves garlic, (minced)
- ½ cup chopped tomatoes, (canned work well unless you have some really ripe ones)
- 2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- ½ cup walnuts, (toasted and chopped, divided)
- ½ cup grated parmesan
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Freshly cracked pepper, (to taste)
- red pepper flakes, (to taste)
- kosher salt, (to taste)
- Preheat the oven to 400°, put the diced eggplant in a small baking dish or sheet pan and toss with a drizzle of olive oil and salt. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the eggplant browns slightly and is very tender. Set aside once done, this step can be done up to a day ahead of time (or with leftover eggplant). If you prefer to peel your eggplant that won't affect the recipe.
- The rest of the dish can be done in the time it takes to boil your pasta. Bring a pot of salted water to boil, add your pasta, and a simmer for about 7 minutes or 1 minute LESS than the package recommendations. Stir often.
- While the pasta is cooking, heat up a large fry pan under medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, onions and pinch of salt and sauté for 2-3 minutes to sweat the onions. Then, add the garlic, some cracked pepper, and red pepper flakes, (if using) and continue to sauté for another minute.
- Next, add the reserved eggplant, chopped tomatoes, red wine vinegar, and half of the walnuts. Bring the heat down to medium and let the sauce simmer for a few minutes while the pasta is finishing. If the mixture starts to dry out, add a splash of the pasta water.
- Once the pasta is finished cooking, transfer to the fry pan using tongs. If you want to drain the pasta in a colander make sure to save about a cup or so of the water, and do not rinse the pasta before adding to the pan.
- Add about ½ cup of reserved pasta water to the pan, stir often and let the noodles soak up the sauce for about 1-2 minutes. If the pan dries out, add another splash of the pasta water.
- Lastly, add the heavy cream, parmesan, butter, a splash of pasta water, and another pinch of salt to the pan. Take the pan off the heat and stir until the butter is melted and well combined. The sauce should be thick and creamy and the noodles well coated. If the sauce is too sticky add another splash of pasta water. Adjust the salt based on your taste and top with the remaining walnuts and a couple cracks of fresh pepper.