I’ve been thinking a lot about passata di pomodoro lately. As it turns out, the Principe Borghese are particularly well suited for making this. For a home cook, this simple, unadorned puree of tomatoes is like having money in the bank. I don’t rest easy until I have a full shelf put up and stored for the season, knowing it’ll serve as a base for many meals to come.
Passata di pomodoro at Masseria Aprile.
Though things are winding down, there was still enough eggplant and basil in the garden to make the Sicilian dish, Pasta alla Norma — a last bit of summer before we head into the new season. Though eggplant is the main ingredient, some say the success of Pasta alla Norma depends on the sauce. Since the Sicilians always put sugar in their tomato sauce, I do the same here. It won’t taste right unless you do. The same for the ricotta salata—you can make a substitute, it just won’t be Pasta alla Norma.
Pasta alla Norma
2 or 3 small eggplants (about 1 pound)
Extra virgin olive oil
2 cups tomato sauce (recipe below)
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 pound penne (also ziti or spaghetti)
6 large basil leaves, torn or shredded
2 cups ricotta salata, grated
– Trim the stem off the eggplants, and cut them (skin on) into 1/4 inch slices or 1/2 inch chunks. Pat dry, and fry in hot olive oil until browned, about 10 minutes. If necessary, cook the eggplant in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan. Eggplant should be soft and cooked through, with some color, but not falling apart. Remove and drain eggplant on paper towels.
– Wipe out the pan and add the tomato sauce. Season the tomato sauce with a pinch of red pepper flakes, and bring to a low simmer to keep warm.
– Cook the pasta until al dente, drain and add to tomato sauce. Off heat, toss with 1 cup of the ricotta salata and the basil, then the eggplant. Season with salt and black pepper, and finish with some good Sicilian olive oil. Serve at table with the rest of the ricotta salata alongside.
Sugo di Pomodoro
1 small onion, chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped (optional)
4 cups tomato puree
Several basil leaves
1/2 – 1 teaspoons sugar
– Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil until soft. Add the tomato puree, basil, sugar and some salt, and simmer 20–30 minutes. This isn’t meant to be a long-cooked tomato sauce, the shorter cooking time makes for a brighter flavor.
– Remove the basil. Pass the rest of the tomato sauce through a food mill for a smoother texture.
Note: With such a short growing season here in Southern Maine, we’ve had more success growing the smaller varieties of eggplant. We’ve been growing 2 kinds — Fairy Tale and Orient Express, both hybrids with shorter days to maturity. Some heirloom varieties that we’re considering for next year are the Listada di Gandia and the Violetta Lunga.
Recipe adapted from “Cucina Siciliana” by Clarissa Hyman.