Full recipe at end of post.
I’m excited to share another truly Italian recipe with you today! Anna, my friend and fellow crafter, organized a cooking class at her house last week. Anna invited her friend and neighbor, Maria, and her daughter to teach the class, and together they taught us how to make a sponge cake with ricotta filling, cannoli (!), and the recipe I’m sharing with you today: Timballo di Pasta alla Norma.
Pasta alla Norma is… umm… amazing. It is a delicious combination of fried eggplant, homemade marinara sauce, and fresh pasta, and it is always topped with shavings of ricotta salata cheese. (Earlier this year, I shared the recipe here.) It’s also a classically Sicilian dish, something that will bring a smile to any Italian’s face. This particular version is a play on the classic dish; timballo, as best I understand, means drum, and this dish is basically Pasta alla Norma baked in a bundt pan, with the end result being that your main dish does look a little bit like a colorful, extremely tasty drum!
So, without further ado, let’s get
drumming cooking. I will make a brief apology for the quality of some of these photos. I was trying to photograph three dishes as they were being cooked simultaneously, and I was also keeping these two munchkins out of trouble. I know. They don’t look like they even know the meaning of the word, but… trust me. They do.
Begin by preparing your eggplant. Italians like to peel off only the ends and a strip of skin on each side so that the eggplant will hold its shape as it fries.
Thickly slice the eggplant and put it in a cold bath of heavily salted water for about 5 minutes. This draws out the bitterness in the eggplant. After 5 minutes, stab the slices with a fork. Soak for 5 minutes more.
Drain the water (which will be brown) and rinse the eggplant. Pat the slices dry. Heat up your vegetable oil and start frying the eggplant in batches.
Cook until golden brown and tender. Drain on paper towels until completely cool. (And try not to eat it all right now. Fried eggplant is unbelievably delicious… and this is coming from someone who didn’t like eggplant until she moved to Sicily.)
At this point you can begin preparing your pasta sauce. The recipe is basic: tomato sauce, garlic, olive oil, salt, fresh basil. The two secrets that make this sauce distinctive are (1) teaspoon of sugar and (2) a pinch of baking soda, if you can believe it! The small amount (pictured below) alters the acidity of the tomato sauce and gives it a unique sweetness.
Cook your rigatoni pasta. When it is al dente, mix in your sauce and 1 cup of pesto.
Add about 1.25 cups of ricotta salata and mix together.
Line 2 bundt pans with the browned eggplant slices.
Pour the pasta on top of the eggplant and sprinkle with another 1/4 cup of ricotta salata.
Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes at 250 degrees F (120 C). Remove from the oven and allow to cool. (If you turn it out too early, your timballo will lose its shape, especially when you serve it.)
Decorate with fresh sprigs of basil and a sprinkle of ricotta salata. And there it is! A rich blend of salty and sweet, chewy and textured, too wonderful for just one helping. A taste of Sicily in your kitchen!
Timballo di Pasta alla Norma
- 2 Eggplants
- Vegetable (sunflower) oil (for frying)
- Cut off ends and the skin down one side of each eggplant. Slice lengthwise in ½ inch slices.
- Place slices in a bowl of water and salt heavily. Let soak for 5 minutes. Pierce eggplant slices with a fork. Let soak 5 minutes longe. Drain water and dry each slice with a paper towel, piercing again with a fork.
- Heat vegetable oil and fry dried eggplant slices until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels to remove excess oil. Let cool completely.
- 3 jars Passata (tomato sauce)
- 2 Garlic cloves
- Salt to taste
- 1/8 tsp Baking soda
- 1 tsp Sugar
- ¼ c. Olive oil
- Handful fresh basil
- Simmer tomato sauce, garlic, and salt for 20-30 minutes until thickened. After it is thickened, stir in baking soda and sugar.
- Remove from heat and add olive oil and basil.
Pasta and Finishing
- 1 kilo (2 lbs) pasta (we used rigatoni but spaghetti can also be used)
- 1 c. basil pesto
- 1 ½ c. ricotta salata cheese, shredded with ¼ c. reserved
- Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
- Cook pasta according to package instructions in salted water. Drain.
- Stir pesto and 1 ¼ c. sliced cheese into pasta. Add tomato sauce to pasta mixture.
- Line 2 bundt pans with the browned eggplant slices. Pour pasta into pan on top of eggplant then top with any remaining sauce. Sprinkle reserved ricotta salata on top.
- Bake for about 10 minutes.
- Wait until cool, then flip onto large flat plate. Put basil stems in center and top with shredded ricotta salata.