pasta alla Norma
Pasta alla Norma is, as Jamie Oliver says, “a great big hug in a bowl.” Ours is not an authentic version, not made singing Bellini’s opera “Norma”, which the dish is said to be named after. Not made with rigatoni either, but with spaghetti because that’s what we had in the cupboard. Sadly we didn’t have salty ricotta, however the salty feta in our fridge did the job nicely. Neither did we have any red wine vinegar, so instead we used the brine from Zejd souri black olives to add a bit of depth. We think there’s room for flexibility with this “hug in a bowl”.
The dish is from Sicily, an island which celebrates its Phoenician heritage, as do the Lebanese. As you gently fry the thin slices of garlic and chilli in Zejd’s extra virgin olive oil, it does make you wonder how many generations of Sicilians have begun a meal this way. Fragrant garlic sizzling in floral olive oil with spiky chilli. The aroma is as grounding as the ingredients are deliciously good for you. A comfortingly simple act in a bleak week.
We followed Ottolenghi’s recipe from Simple, roasting the slices of aubergine in the oven until dark brown. He suggests using a potato peeler to cut thin strips of the skin lengthways. This makes the roasted aubergine chunks easier to eat. Rather than drizzling extra virgin olive oil on each slice, he suggests tossing the slices in a bowl with the extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. This means everything is well coated, not saturated. Each slice colours evenly in the oven. Feel free to choose your own way of cooking the aubergine!
2 large aubergines
120ml Zejd extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1-2 mild chillis, deseeded and roughly chopped
400g tomatoes, tinned
3 fresh tomatoes, chopped (or another tin of tomatoes)
1 tbsp Zejd souri black olive brine (or red wine vinegar – optional)
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp sugar
45g sheep’s milk feta
a handful of basil leaves, torn
salt and pepper
- Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees fan. Line 2 baking trays with greaseproof paper.
- Using a potato peeler, remove alternate strips from the aubergine. Cut widthways into 1cm slices. Pour 75ml of Zejd extra virgin olive oil into a big bowl, add 3/4 teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper. Toss the aubergine slices so that everything is coated and seasoned.
- Place the slices on the trays, leaving enough room between each slice. Roast for 30 minutes, until the slices are a deep brown but not burnt. Remove and set aside.
- Put 2 tablespoons of Zejd extra virgin olive oil into a sauté pan, and warm on a medium high heat. Add the garlic slices and chilli to the oil and stir continuously for a couple of minutes until golden brown.
- Add the fresh and tinned tomatoes, the sugar, oregano, some salt and pepper. Turn the heat to medium, and cook gentle for 10 minutes. Then add the aubergine and set aside.
- Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, and add the spaghetti. Once al dente, strain but keep some water to add to the sauce.
- Add the spaghetti to the sauce with a little of the pasta water. Stir well to coat the spaghetti, then add half the feta and basil.
- To serve, add a bit of basil and the remaining feta to each plate.