Pasta A La Norma but Better

I love eggplant.  Eggplant parmigiana is about my favorite comfort food.  But, quite frankly, all of that breading and frying and layering and baking is more effort than I am willing to put into dinner on a busy weeknight or even a stressful Sunday, when we’re gearing up for the week ahead of us.  Part of my aversion to making this wonderful casserole is that is seems silly.  Why go through all that effort when the Italian butcher down the street makes the best (not at all greasy, not too cheesy but cheesy enough, with the perfect sauce to cheese to eggplant ratio) eggplant parmigiana I have ever had.  It’s hardly worth my effort when this eggplant perfection is literally a 5 minute walk away.  But, when I am craving eggplant but not quite parmigiana, and when the Italian butcher is closed because they’re old school and close on Sunday’s, this version of Pasta A La Norma satisfies all my eggplant ooey-gooey-cheesy cravings without any frying or layering.  Make it, you’ll thank me.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 lb of pasta,  short tubes work well like penne or gemelli
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Crushed red pepper
  • 2 medium sized eggplants, cubed into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 pint of grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 8 cloves of garlic (6 of them in their skin)
  • 2 14 oz. cans of grape or cherry tomatoes
  • 8-16 ounces of fresh mozzarella, depending on how cheesy you like it (I use 16 oz) cut into 1 inch cubes
  • fresh basil to garnish

What to do:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  • Cook pasta according to directions, set aside.
  • Placed cubed eggplant, halved tomatoes, and garlic cloves (still in their skin) on a large baking sheet or two.
  • Coat vegetables with olive oil, sprinkle with salt. Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes, until garlic is soft, eggplant begins to brown on edges, and tomatoes have released their juices.
  • While vegetables roast, coat a large sautee pan with olive oil, once warm add two cloves of crushed garlic and a pinch or two of red pepper flakes, sautee for 30 seconds then add canned tomatoes.  Bring to a low simmer.
  • Once the vegetables are ready, take them out of the oven.  Press the roasted garlic cloves out their skin and through a garlic press, directly into the simmering tomatoes.  Add the eggplant and tomato halves to the sauce. Salt to taste.
  • Toss the sauce with the pasta then add the cubed fresh mozzarella. Toss again.  The mozzarella should get ooey-gooey from the heat of the sauce and pasta.
  • Top with fresh basil and a drizzle of olive oil.  Grated cheese is always welcome, too.

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