~ Vincenzo Bellini: His Opera lends it’s name to this famous Sicilian dish ~
As tasty and colorful as Sicily itself, this classic recipe from the Sicilian gastronomic tradition features two wonderful ingredients ingrained in the local cuisine;  eggplant and ricotta salata. 
Legend has it that “Pasta alla Norma” was so named in honor of Vincenzo Bellini’s opera “Norma”.  The story says that in the 19th century, Nino Martoglio, a Sicilian writer and theater director, was so impressed when he first tasted this dish that he compared it to “Norma”, Bellini’s iconic masterpiece.   The name has lasted ever since. 

~ The Sicilian Village of Caccamo ~
This recipe is a classic for it’s lore as well as it’s use of ricotta salata; a dry sheep’s cheese that is a staple of Sicilian culture.  I used Rigatoni, though you can vary the shape as you desire. Just be sure to use a pasta you can stab or scoop with a fork  so that you can get the eggplant in each bite. 
Pasta alla Norma
1 pound Rigatoni
2 Medium eggplant, chopped
5 medium tomatoes, diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
Handful fresh Basil
Grated Ricotta Salata
Start by cutting the eggplant in quarters lengthwise.  Remove most of the seeds with a paring knife and then cut cross wise into quarter moons.  Pile in a colander and salt liberally.  Place two papertowels on top of the eggplant.  Allow to sit while you’re preparing the rest of the condimento.  Occasionally press the paper towels to draw out the eggplants moisture. This will allow the eggplant to retain it’s firmness when it’s cooked.  
After about 15 minutes, quickly pat the eggplant dry.  Transfer to a large pot with some extra virgin olive oil and saute over medium heat for 8-10 minutes.
~ Eggplant working in the pan, note the size of the pieces ~

Once the eggplant cooks down,  add the diced tomatoes and cook for 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes break down.   Test for seasoning.  Bear in mind that some of the salt from the eggplant may have remained on them, so approach cautiously.  I also used a generous pinch of crushed red pepper!

~  Eggplant and Tomatoes coming together in rich, spicy goodness ~

Before serving,  slice some basil leaves and garnish liberally.  Be sure to grate lots of fresh ricotta salata over the pasta.  A simple, classic dish that is delicious and healthy. 

~ The plated pasta.  There is much more eggplant here than meets the eye ~
With this dish we featured another of the excellent Siclian Reds from Tenute Delle Terre Nere.  We’ve spotlighted their entry level Rosso in the past, and I have been curious to try some of their single vineyard wines.  This is the first in a mini-series of features on this excellent winery.
The 2011 Etna Rosso “Guardiola” is a fabulous wine.  Harvested from the slopes of Mt. Etna near Catania,  the vineyard’s elevation of almost 1,000 meters above sea level,  is Terre Nere’s highest.  At that height, the soil becomes poorer  and is comprised mostly of sand and volcanic ash.  The vines that give fruit for this wine average between 50-70 years old and the wine is predominantly Nerello Mascalese (98%) with the balance to Nerello Capuccio.   The wine is fermented in stainless steel and then aged 16-18 months in a combination of French barrique and tonneaux before being bottle aged 6 months prior to release. 

~ The Guardiola Vineyard, high up on Mt. Etna,  sees snow during the winter months ~
We decanted the wine for 60 minutes before dinner.  In the glass, the wine shows a deep cranberry color with a pretty violet tone at the rim.   Aromas are unique and speak to the terroir.  One can easily discern a smokey, powdery ash note – which carries on the palate as well – but there are ample berry notes and touches of wild Mediterranean herbs that are present. 
On the palate, the wine has somewhat of a subdued elegance.  It’s muscular, with wild berry and smokey ash notes accented with a touch of vanilla and spice.  Flavors are persistent and linger nicely – the wild nature of the wine plays against the acidity of the tomatoes and the savory character of the eggplant very well.  Maybe it could use a touch more concentration, but overall a solid wine.  90 points, about $30.  Disclosure:  This bottle was an importer provided sample.
~ The 2011 is 98% Nerello Mascalese and 2% Nerello Capuccio ~ 

More to come from this winery……… Salute!


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