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This dish, a riff on pasta alla Norma, is a current family favorite in Rach's house. It's made with eggplant and 'nduja (basically a sausage paste from southern Italy), but you can substitute 2 tablespoons of Calabrian chili paste for a vegetarian version. Both will give the tomato sauce a smoky, spicy, delicious background flavor.
Pro Tip from Rach: When buying eggplant, firm and heavy is the way to go.
Bring a pot of water to boil for pasta.
Arrange eggplant on kitchen towel, season with salt and let it drain well: top with another towel, roll and let stand 20 to 30 minutes to drain.
Heat 2 tablespoons EVOO in large nonstick skillet, add the eggplant and brown and cook until tender, 6 to 7 minutes. Remove, add remaining oil and 'nduja and melt into the pan. Add onions and soften a couple of minutes, then add the cherry tomatoes, salt and garlic and cover to collapse tomatoes, 6 to 7 minutes, shaking skillet occasionally. Add passata and basil and drop pasta. Simmer sauce while pasta cooks.
Salt water liberally and cook pasta a minute less than package directions; reserve ½ cup water.
Add eggplant and pasta to sauce and combine. Adjust salt and add starchy cooking water, if necessary.
Serve pasta topped with cheese of choice and chopped parsley.