Egg­plant favourites, rooted in Si­cily

The Hamilton Spectator - - FOOD - DAVID TANIS

Si­cil­ian cui­sine to­day is var­ied, but a re­cur­ring theme in daily cook­ing is the use of a few com­mon in­gre­di­ents: olive oil, egg­plant, to­mato and pasta, usu­ally with a pinch of peper­on­cino, crushed hot red pep­per.

Th­ese dishes taste best with spank­ing-fresh egg­plant.

Clas­sic Pasta alla Norma MAKES 4 TO 6 SERV­INGS

Ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil 1 small onion, diced Salt and pep­per 2 gar­lic cloves, peeled Pinch of crushed red pep­per 12 basil leaves, plus a few basil sprigs for gar­nish 4 cups peeled, chopped to­ma­toes with juice, fresh or canned 3 or 4 small egg­plants (about 2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes 1 pound pasta, such as penne, riga­toncini or spaghetti 1 cup coarsely grated ri­cotta salata ¼ cup toasted bread crumbs, prefer­ably home­made

Time: 30 min­utes 1: Make a quick to­mato sauce: Put 2 ta­ble­spoons olive oil in a large, deep skil­let over medium-high heat. Add onions, sea­son with salt and pep­per and cook, stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally, un­til soft­ened, about 10 min­utes.

2: Stir in gar­lic, red pep­per and basil leaves and cook for 1 minute. Add to­ma­toes, stir and bring to a sim­mer. Re­duce heat to low and let sauce sim­mer gen­tly for 20 min­utes, un­til slightly thick­ened. Taste and ad­just sea­son­ing. Set aside. (Sauce may be pre­pared up to two days in ad­vance.)

3: Mean­while, bring a large pot of well-salted wa­ter to a boil. Turn heat to low and cover pot un­til it’s time to cook the pasta.

4: Put a wide cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. Add 4 ta­ble­spoons olive oil to coat sur­face of pan. When oil is wavy, test by ad­ding a cube of egg­plant. It should be­gin to siz­zle and brown im­me­di­ately. Fill the pan with a sin­gle layer of egg­plant cubes. Turn egg­plant with a spat­ula or tongs and brown nicely on all sides. Lower heat as nec­es­sary to main­tain an even tem­per­a­ture; if the pan is too hot, the egg­plant will burn.

5: Re­move cooked egg­plant to a plate and con­tinue to fry re­main­ing egg­plant in batches, ad­ding more oil as nec­es­sary. Sea­son fin­ished egg­plant with salt and pep­per. (Al­ter­na­tively, roast the egg­plant on a bak­ing sheet at 400 F, lightly driz­zled with oil, un­til cooked and nicely browned, about 20 min­utes.)

6: To as­sem­ble and serve, boil pasta un­til al dente, leav­ing it a lit­tle firmer than nor­mal. Bring the to­mato sauce to a sim­mer. Add egg­plant to sauce and gen­tly stir to com­bine. Re­serve a cup of pasta cook­ing wa­ter, then drain pasta and add to sauce. Us­ing two wooden spoons or tongs, toss pasta and sauce, and let cook one minute more. Thin sauce if nec­es­sary with a lit­tle pasta cook­ing wa­ter.

7: Trans­fer to a warmed wide pasta bowl. Sprin­kle with grated ri­cotta salata and bread crumbs. Gar­nish with torn or whole basil leaves and a driz­zle of olive oil, if de­sired.

Egg­plant Caponata MAKES 6 OR MORE SERV­INGS

Ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil 3 or 4 small egg­plants (about 2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes Salt and pep­per 1 onion, chopped 4 small cel­ery stalks, chopped (about 1 cup), blanched for 1 minute in boil­ing salted wa­ter, then cooled 1 ta­ble­spoon to­mato paste 2 tbsp ca­pers, rinsed 1 cup good-qual­ity green olives, pit­ted Pinch of crushed red pep­per 1 bay leaf 3 tbsp gran­u­lated sugar ¼ cup red wine vine­gar ½ cup dry white wine 2 tbsp chopped pars­ley

Time: 1 hour, plus 1 hour to mellow 1: Put a wide cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. Add 4 ta­ble­spoons olive oil to coat sur­face of pan. When oil is wavy, test by ad­ding a cube of egg­plant. It should be­gin to siz­zle and brown im­me­di­ately. Fill the pan with a sin­gle layer of egg­plant cubes. Turn egg­plant with a spat­ula or tongs and brown nicely on all sides. Lower heat as nec­es­sary to main­tain an even tem­per­a­ture; if the pan is too hot, the egg­plant will burn.

2: Re­move cooked egg­plant to a plate and con­tinue to fry re­main­ing egg­plant in batches, ad­ding more oil as nec­es­sary. Sea­son fin­ished egg­plant with salt and pep­per. (Al­ter­na­tively, roast the egg­plant on a bak­ing sheet at 400 F, lightly driz­zled with oil, un­til cooked and nicely browned, about 20 min­utes.)

3: Mean­while, heat 2 ta­ble­spoons oil in a stain­less-steel skil­let over medium-high heat. Add onions, sea­son lightly with salt and cook, stir­ring, un­til soft­ened and lightly coloured, about five min­utes. Stir in blanched cel­ery, to­mato paste, ca­pers and olives. Add crushed red pep­per, bay leaf, sugar, vine­gar and wine. Sim­mer another five min­utes.

4: Gen­tly fold in cooked egg­plant and sim­mer two or three min­utes more. Taste cook­ing juices and ad­just salt if nec­es­sary. Let mellow for one hour at room tem­per­a­ture (or make it a day in ad­vance for fuller flavour). Sprin­kle with pars­ley to serve. The caponata will keep for a week, re­frig­er­ated.

Baked Egg­plant with Ri­cotta, Moz­zarella and An­chovy MAKES 6 TO 8 SERV­INGS

Ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil 3 or 4 small egg­plants (about 2 pounds), peeled and cut into ½-inch slices Salt and pep­per Pinch of crushed red pep­per 1 small red onion, thinly sliced 12 ounces fresh ri­cotta ½ pound smoked moz­zarella, thinly sliced (or use fresh moz­zarella) 2 cups pro­volone cheese, coarsely grated (about ½ pound) ½ cup finely grated Parme­san or Grana Padano cheese (about 2 ounces) ½ cup finely grated pecorino cheese (about 2 ounces) 12 an­chovy fil­lets ¼ cup toasted bread crumbs, prefer­ably home­made 1 tea­spoon dried oregano, prefer­ably Si­cil­ian

Time: 2 hours 1: Heat oven to 375 de­grees. Gen­er­ously oil a 9-by-13-inch bak­ing dish. Sea­son egg­plant slices on both sides with salt and pep­per. Ar­range half the egg­plant slices in one layer on bot­tom of dish, over­lap­ping slices slightly. Driz­zle or paint egg­plant gen­er­ously with olive oil. Sprin­kle with crushed red pep­per to taste and scat­ter onion slices evenly over sur­face.

2: With a small spoon, distribute the ri­cotta in lit­tle blobs evenly over sur­face, then ar­range half the smoked moz­zarella over the ri­cotta. Sprin­kle with 1 cup grated pro­volone.

3: Make another layer of over­lap­ping slices with re­main­ing sea­soned egg­plant. Driz­zle or paint egg­plant gen­er­ously with olive oil. Top sur­face evenly with re­main­ing smoked moz­zarella and pro­volone, then sprin­kle with Parme­san and pecorino. Ar­range an­chovy fil­lets over top and sprin­kle with bread crumbs.

4: Bake un­cov­ered for 45 min­utes to 1 hour, un­til egg­plant is quite ten­der when pierced with a fork and top is crisp and golden. (If top seems to be brown­ing too quickly, tent with foil and re­duce heat to 350 F.) Re­move from oven, dust with oregano and let rest at least 20 min­utes be­fore cut­ting into squares. The dish is best served at room tem­per­a­ture, not pip­ing hot.

PHO­TOS BY JOHN KARSTEN MO­RAN, NYT

Some of the in­gre­di­ents — basil, egg­plant, to­ma­toes, ri­cotta salata, crushed red pep­per — for the clas­sic egg­plant recipe, pasta alla Norma.

A to­mato-free ver­sion of egg­plant parmi­giana, which in­cludes egg­plant, ri­cotta, moz­zarella and an­chovy.

This to­mato-free ver­sion of egg­plant parmi­giana in­cludes egg­plant, ri­cotta, moz­zarella and an­chovy.

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