Fans of the Sicilian dish “pasta alla norma” need no convincing that this is a great dinner—those melting chunks of fried eggplant mingling with garlicky tomato sauce and salty bits of the semi-hard cheese ricotta salata are simply a combination that’s meant to be.
But let’s be frank about all that frying. I’m no oil-phobe, but have you ever tried to fry a whole bunch of eggplant? That spongey flesh will soak up all the oil you have in the house, and might end up soggy, rather than crisp, once you get it in the sauce. I have never found the process to be worth it.*
Instead, I cut large chunks of the stuff and toss with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then roast it at 375 until it gets golden around the corners and yieldingly tender within; this can take place while you’re readying a basic tomato-garlic sauce, so it speeds up the cooking as well. (You don’t need a ton of oil for the eggplant; the heat of the oven does most of the work in attaining this winning texture.) Add the roasted eggplant to the sauce right before you’re ready to eat, and then grate some ricotta salata over the top. Note: if you haven’t found this fancy cheese, you can swap in a big dollop of some regular ricotta, as I did last night, for a dinner that is just as satisfying, if slightly less authentic.
This will be my last red sauce of 2015. Have great holidays and I’ll see you in the new year!
*The exception is very thin slices, to be layered in an eggplant parmesan, preferably by a real Sicilian. Then, only frying will do.