I was never one for eggplant, when I was younger. Eventually, I began eating them, but only if they were soaked in oil. Then I met my husband was introduced to Ristorante Rimini in Göttingen, where I tried his Spaghetti a la Norma. I have since been sold on eggplants and love dishes with them, such as filled eggplant, eggplant bruschetta and eggplant slices filled with a walnut-filling.Since we live nowhere near Göttingen since we have known each other, I have been making this dish at home for years, simply replacing the spaghetti with a gluten-free version last year. I have no idea who Norma was, but I would like to commend her on this excellent dish. It has everything I could ask for, it’s always a delight to stumble upon it.
Cooking this up is* a bit of trouble, especially during summer, when I make the tomato sauce from scratch, but the smile on my husband’s face is reward enough, plus there is nothing more delicious than homemade tomato sauce. I wish I could eat it all year! You can make Spaghetti a la Norma by frying the eggplant slices in lots of oil, but I prefer baking them in the oven with a little olive oil. It’s less smelly and way healthier. I have also fried them in a very minimal amount of oil in a grill pan, this has also worked well. I find it doesn’t take away from the taste at all to use less oil, so I recommend you go for the healthier version yourself. We’ve also had Gnocchi a la Norma, which is also tasty. As in moussaka, eggplant, tomato and potatoes make a great partners here as well.
4 cloves of garlic (crushed)
lots and lots of chopped fresh Italian herbs (e.g. parsley, thyme, rosemary, basil)
salt and pepper to taste
500g canned tomatoes or homemade tomato sauce (if you are making this fresh, use one kilo fresh tomatoes which you have washed and cut into quarters)
2 garlic clovers
2 handful chopped fresh basil
salt, pepper, vegetable broth to taste
gluten-free spaghetti, parmigiano (for decoration)
Turn your oven to 220 °C.
Cut the ends off the eggplants, wash them and cut them into slices of about 1,5 cm thickness. Line a baking tin with baking parchment and place the eggplant slices on it. Rub the eggplant with the crushed garlic (yeah, this will render smelly hands, sorry!), sprinkle with the herbs, turn the slice over, repeat and finally sprinkle with a good chug of olive oil. You will need approximately one baking tin per eggplant. Place the eggplant slices in the oven and bake until they are roasted and soft, for about twenty minutes to half an hour. You want to turn them over mid-way. I sometimes lose an eggplant slice in this process as they will roast too much, so be sure to remove the eggplant slices from your oven just in time. Allow eggplant slices to cool and then cut into pieces of about one centimeter with. Like I said, you can also grill them in a pan, with a bit of oil. It’s also a very nice (but more work-intensive) way of preparing the eggplant slices for Spaghetti a la Norma. If you are preparing this for a special occassion (or want to eat it during the week), you can aboslutely prepare the eggplant a few days ahead of time and store them in an air-tight container in your fridge.You can also chop them coarsely, if you like, for a more rustic sauce.
Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce: chop up your onion finely, crush the garlic. Place a medium pot on your stove and turn it on. Add the oil to the pot and once it has heated, add the onions and the garlic. Let fry for about two minutes. Add the canned tomatoes (or the chopped fresh tomatoes, if you are making this sauce fresh) and let simmer for about five minutes (longer for the fresh tomatoes – about an hour) and the vegetable broth. Add the basil and let simmer for another five minutes. I’m also a fan of just throwing all the tomato sauce ingrediens into a casserole dish and baking everything until it is done. I then run a handheld blender through it and have an amazing sauce full of aromas that come to be when the tomatoes and onions are given a bit of a roast. If you are making the sauce fresh, you may want to run the blades from a handheld blender through it and even pick out the tomato peels.
Prepare spaghetti according to package directions, and drain.
Add the chopped eggplant slices to your potato sauce and give sauce another boil. You can now either mix the eggplant-tomato sauce together with the spaghetti (like Italians would) or serve the spaghetti plain. Either way: ensure to sprinkle with a generous amount of freshly grated parmigiano (or a vegan equivalent). The cheese really adds – so don’t miss out!