"In my family, tomato and eggplant pasta (alla Norma) was nicknamed 'alla Normal' because it was made frequently because it was a favorite," says Rach. "This is abnormal alla Norma as the eggplant are diced rather than cut into generous batons, and the dish incorporates ground lamb or beef, making it much heartier for Sunday supper—our night for pasta."
- 2 small eggplant, the firmer and heavier the better (or 1 medium)
- Salt and pepper
- 6 cloves garlic, cracked from skins (a bulb)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
- 1 pound ground lamb or beef
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano, or 1 round tablespoon fresh, chopped
- 1 ½ teaspoons fennel seed or fennel pollen and seed combined, ½ palmful
- 2 teaspoons Calabrian chili paste, or 1 teaspoon chili flakes
- 3 tablespoons sundried tomato paste or tomato paste
- ½ cup sweet vermouth or red wine
- 2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 ½ to 2 cups cherry tomato or tomato passata or tomato puree
- A few leaves basil, torn
- 1 pound fusilli lunghi or bucatini pasta, or 500 grams
- Ricotta salata or pecorino, for grating
Peel off half the skin of eggplant and slice into steaks about ½ inch thick then dice. Season with salt and drain on kitchen towel. Thinly slice the garlic.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta.
Heat a Dutch oven or large deep skillet over medium-high heat and add EVOO, 2 turns of the pan. Add lamb or beef and brown and crumble, season with salt, pepper, oregano, fennel and chili paste, combine, then stir in tomato paste, and add vermouth or wine and let it absorb. Add garlic and eggplant and partially cover to get it going, 3 minutes, then add tomatoes and passata and cover pan to cook tomatoes 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add torn basil and reduce heat to simmer.
Cook pasta 1 minute less than package directions. Add 1 cup of its water to sauce, then drain pasta, toss to combine and top with cheese to serve.