Vegan Pasta Alla Norma
by Iona Berry
This simple and classic Sicilian pasta dish is a real crowd pleaser that is also relatively easy to make. It’s full of smoky flavour from the aubergines, plenty of garlic and I love to use finely chopped capers for a saltiness which I think elevates the sauce.
I love the story behind the naming of this pasta dish. It’s said that Catanese composer, playwright, and poet Nino Martoglio (1870 -1921) was so impressed by the pasta that he called it Norma after fellow Catania native Vincenzo Bellini's opera. Legend says that Martoglio exclaimed, “Chista è ‘na vera Norma!” (This is a true Norma!). I hope he would feel the same way (or close) about my veganised version.
It is a personal choice whether you salt the aubergines for this dish but I do think it adds to texture and overall flavour of the aubergine. Traditionally this would be served with ricotta salata on top, which is something I am still working on veganising, so watch this space but in the meantime a vegan parmesan is still a nice addition. Feel free to use a different pasta shape for this, but I absolutely love the mezze maniche rigate and the way the sauce clings to the pasta.
400g aubergine, cut into cubes
Sea salt, for salting the aubergine
5 tbsp olive oil
3 regular shallots (my shallots were very small so I used 5), finely diced
3 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
1/2 tsp chilli flakes (optional but I think it brings out the flavours in the sauce)
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp sugar, to taste
200g cherry tomatoes, halved (optional)
5g fresh basil
400g pasta (I used mezze maniche rigate as instructed to by a wise Italian)
Salt for the pasta water
Add the diced aubergine and salt to a colander, and let it sit for 20 minutes. Then, thoroughly rinse and dry the aubergine.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and once warm, add the diced shallots with a pinch of salt. Cook for 5-7 minutes until they have begun to soften and caramelise. Add the garlic and chilli flakes and cook for 2 minutes (keep an eye on the temperature so that you don’t burn the garlic).
Add the aubergine pieces to the frying pan. Cook these until the aubergine is very soft (once you add the liquids they will take a lot longer to cook). Once you think they are done then take a piece out and cut with a knife, the cube should not have a white interior and should look thoroughly cooked.
Add the tomato paste, cook it down for 2-3 minutes then add the passata and water and bring the sauce to the boil. Next, simmer it for for 20 - 30 minutes. Taste the sauce for seasonin - if it tastes acidic, add the tsp of sugar. Around 5 minutes before the sauce is done, add the cherry tomatoes if using.
Ten minutes before the sauce is ready, cook the pasta according to the instructions on the pack. Reserve 1/2 of cooking water before draining the pasta, then drain the pasta and add it to the sauce along with the reserved cooking water. Stir the pasta and sauce together over medium heat, for 2-3 minutes, until the pasta is thoroughly coated.
Serve it with fresh basil and vegan parmesan cheese, as well as plenty of cracked black pepper and more olive oil.
by Iona Berry
Iona is our Development Kitchen Assistant, aka our go-to girl for developing, testing and tasting delicious dishes for you to all enjoy at home. When she’s not in the kitchen, you’ll find her either running or cycling, or trying out food markets and new restaurants around London. Continuous market research it would seem.