I have a confession to make, and I am quite scared to say it. There’s no denying the truth though so here it goes. Before our memorable trip to Rome last year, I was a food sceptic. No need to panic: I am a food lover through and through. However I used to think the goodness and freshness of Italian food was hyped up. Quite a declaration, don’t you think? Many were those, including my husband and brother-in-law, who said “Oh you will absolutely *love* the food there!” (The words love and food seem to pair up and reach atmospheric levels in Italy.) I thought it was all an exaggeration notwithstanding the number of people who kept repeating this over and over to me. I almost got sick hearing the same thing until I said to J “Right. I’ve had enough of this. We’re going there and I want to see and taste the food myself!” We did go, I did taste and the rest is history.
Around two months ago, we were treated to a lovely meal at an Italian restaurant pretty near our neck of the woods, in the company of around 50 Italian ex-pats. I couldn’t ask for more. The food kept on coming, the wine kept on flowing, and the people were truly unique. At the end of the I-can’t-remember-the-number-of-courses-we-had dinner, I turned to my Italian friend and said: “This is great food!” He answer was simple: “We are Italians!” I am now a loyal follower.
One of the first things I tried in Rome was Pasta alla Norma. Now every Italian foodie knows that this dish is Sicilian in origin. The Maltese and Sicilians are practically cousins. Well, the Maltese like to think so anyway, so I thought of recreating my own version. Coincidentally (because truthfully I did not plan it), the recipe for Kwareżimal in the previous post is also Sicilian. The Maltese have adapted it and lovingly made it their own; such is the story of food. I used tinned tomatoes here. I’m sure Angela Hartnett will approve. The one thing you will not find here, is the ricotta salata unfortunately. I couldn’t get my hands on it, so I replaced it with halloumi. I hope my Italian friends will forgive me…
- 500g aubergines
- ½ to 1 teaspoon salt to remove excess liquid from the aubergines
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 500g polpa di pomodoro (approx. 1 can of tinned chopped tomatoes)
- 450g dried Spirali
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed
- ¼ teaspoon dried chillies
- 150g Halloumi, cut into small cubes
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Cut the aubergines into cubes, scatter the salt on top and place them in a sieve on top of a bowl for around 30 minutes. The salt will extract excess liquid from the aubergines.
- In the meantime place a pan of water on the hob for the pasta and wait for it to come up to a boil.
- Place a large shallow pan on the heat. When it’s hot enough pour in the olive oil and crushed garlic. Wipe the aubergines with a thick kitchen towel and tip them in the pan with the oil and garlic. Fry these until they turn slightly golden. Add the tomatoes, dried chillies. Let the sauce simmer for a while and taste it. Add some salt and pepper if you feel the need.
- Scatter a pinch of salt in the pasta water and cook the dried Spriali as per packet instructions.
- When the pasta is cooked, reserve ¼ cup of the pasta water and add some of it to the tomato sauce. Preferably tip the cooked pasta into the sauce and mix well. Divide everything into 4 bowls and sprinkle each serving with the cubed Halloumi. You can also add some fresh roughly torn basil leaves on top of the cheese.
A simple dish but it works so well. I read that using smaller aubergines pack a bigger punch in terms of flavour and are less bitter. This makes sense however I get whatever I find at the market during the week. Enjoy!