Pasta ala Norma for Auntie Poldi

I just finished the debut novel of a new series, Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions, by Mario Giordano, and I did enjoy it, despite a few reservations.  Auntie is a definitely a character, albeit one prone to occasionally wavering somewhere on the edges of wonderland.

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
Serves 4-6  
  • 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
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.  
  4. Note: I cut everything by half, for just the two of us.

Very delicious!  We both loved it. This will be shared over at the June edition of Heather's Foodie Reads Challenge, with Simona for her Summer edition of Novel Food,and with Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event.  Be sure to visit those sites for great food and book suggestions.


A Day in the Life on the Farm said...

Sounds like a fun, light hearted read and the pasta looks amazing.

Deb in Hawaii said...

That pasta looks delicious==loving the eggplant--and the book sounds like fun. ;-)

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I started this book but never finished it. But I should have for the recipe alone; it sounds great! Thanks for sharing it!

Jackie McGuinness said...

I made sauce this week with San Maranzo tomatoes and also crushed them.

Carole said...

Inspired to make pasta tonight. Cheers from Carole's chatter

shelleyrae @ book'd out said...

Sounds like it has the potential to be an enjoyable cozy mystery.

Have a great week in the kitchen

(Diane) bookchickdi said...

Your pasta looks fantastic. I saw the Auntie Poldi book in our shop, I was wondering if it is a good read.

Mae Travels said...

That looks very tempting. I love pasta and also love eggplant.
best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

Beth F said...

NOw back from my trip ... I love eggplant and am always looking for new ways to cook it. I think I might have a copy of this book; I'll have to give it a try.

Literature and Limes said...

I've always loved Pasta Alla Norma!

Debra Eliotseats said...

I am so going to hijack the phrase "wavering on the edge of Wonderland"!!!!

Elizabeth said...

Oooh! That pasta looks and sounds fabulous!

I've put the book on my "to read" list - it's that opening with so much subtext that is so attractive "On her sixtieth birthday my Auntie Poldi moved to Sicily, intending to drink herself comfortably to death with a sea view. That, at least, was what we were all afraid of, but something always got in the way."

Simona Carini said...

Your post reminded me that it was the first dish I tasted during my first trip to Sicily. It was quite an introduction to Sicilian food: I am glad the novel made you discover it. I have not heard of this series and will check it out. Thank you for contributing to Novel Food :)