From the Library Journal review:
"There is a new amateur sleuth in town. Auntie Poldi, a 60-year-old Bavarian widow, decides to retire to Sicily and spend the rest of her days enjoying a good sea view and an abundance of Prosecco. Instead, she gets involved with investigating the death of Valentino, her handyman, and with an attractive police inspector. The characters are eccentric, bordering on over the top; the scenery is lovely; and the descriptions of food are fantastic. Poldi's nephew, an aspiring writer, lives in her attic bedroom and narrates the tale. There are some awkward pacing points in the book, which could be owing to difficulties in the translation; overall, it is a breezy mystery."
Auntie enjoys eating as well as drinking and flirting, so plenty of good food mentioned, both German and Italian, particularly Sicilian. Poldi fixes a dish for her new Police Inspector friend, one I'd never heard of, though apparently a favorite in Sicily, Pasta ala Norma. According to my sources, "a triumph of Mediterranean flavors, so called in honor of Vincenzo Bellini's opera "Norma". The story says that in the 19th century, Nino Martoglio, a Sicilian writer, poet and theater director, was so impressed when he first tasted this dish that he compared it to “Norma”, Bellini’s masterpiece. And the name lasted ever since.
Pasta ala Norma
- 2 medium eggplants, cut into 3/4″ cubes
- 7 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 small yellow onion, minced
- 1 tsp. crushed red chile flakes
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 (28-oz.) can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, undrained and crushed by hand
- 1 lb. penne pasta
- 4 oz. ricotta salata, grated (or Romano and some fresh ricotta)
- 16 fresh basil leaves, torn by hand
- Heat oven to 400ºF. Put eggplant into a colander, sprinkle with salt and let it sweat for about 30 minutes. Blot dry with a paper towel, and then toss in a bowl with 4 tbsp.oil. Toss to combine and season with pepper. Transfer eggplant to 2 baking sheets and bake, turning occasionally, until soft and caramelized, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack; set aside.
- Heat remaining oil in a 5-qt. pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, until soft, about 10 minutes. Add chile flakes and garlic and cook, stirring, until garlic softens, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and half the basil, season with salt, and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes. Or, alternatively, just use some of your favorite prepared marinara sauce, as I did.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until just al dente, about 9 minutes. Drain pasta and transfer to tomato sauce. Stir in reserved eggplant and toss to combine. Stir in remaining basil and season with salt. To serve, transfer pasta to a platter and garnish with ricotta salata or Romano and fresh ricotta. Note: I cut everything by half, for just the two of us.