Culinary legend has it that this simple but delectable dish was invented by an Italian chef to mark the first performance of Sicilian-born Vincenzo Bellini’s grand opera, Norma, in 1831. Deep-frying the eggplant is traditional, but baking works well and is less caloric and far less work.
Serves 4 as a first course
1 medium globe eggplant, about 3⁄4 pound, trimmed but not peeled
Olive oil spray
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 (14–15-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, drained (save the juice for another use)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Pinch hot red pepper flakes
10 to 12 ounces gluten-free fettuccine
1⁄2 cup loosely packed basil leaves, chopped just before serving
Wedge of Pecorino Romano
Heat the oven to 400°F. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.
Slice the eggplant into ¾-inch thick slices and lay them on the baking sheet. Spray each one with olive oil. Turn them over and spray again. Bake until browned on the underside, about 15 minutes, then turn and bake for a further 10 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, warm the olive oil in a skillet over moderate heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Quarter the tomatoes lengthways and then once across, to make large, even chunks, and add to the skillet. Stir in the garlic and hot pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until the liquid has almost evaporated, about 15 minutes, stirring often. Quarter the eggplant slices and add to the sauce.
While the sauce cooks, boil the pasta in salted water, taste testing often, until al dente, about 7 minutes. Add to the sauce with the chopped basil, and toss gently. Divide the pasta among four heated shallow bowls. Garnish with curls of pecorino, shaving them off the wedge with a vegetable peeler.
From Gluten-Free Italian by Jacqueline Mallorca, published by Da Capo Lifelong