Sicilian busiate pasta alla Norma

There is an aroma that is forever etched in my memories of summer holidays in Sicily: the sweet smell of fried eggplants and tomato sauce.  Sicilians (like my mum) are masters of cooking eggplants which are used in some of the most iconic dishes that Italy has donated to the world: eggplant parmigiana (parmesan), baked eggplant pasta and, obviously, pasta alla Norma.

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best sauce for busiate pasta

The sauce is simple and can be prepared quickly if you are well organized. My mother would return to our holiday rental from the beach and make it while we children took one last swim. We would go back – still dripping – and lunch on bowls of spaghetti alla Norma adorned with fragrant basil and a generous sprinkle of ricotta infornata which is similar to the aged ricotta salata from Catania.

When we visited our relatives we were sometime offered the luxury version with homemade busiate, a sort of rustic fusilli made with fine semolina (durum wheat flour) and water.

For this recipe, it is essential to use eggplants which are field grown and in season. In Italy, summer is eggplant season. Eggplants available in winter are generally tasteless and spongy, often hard like wood and full of seeds.

In early summer I favor the classic oval eggplants which must be firm but with a little give and a fresh green stem.

classic Italian oval eggplants: photo jacqueline macou da Pixabay

For this recipe, please don’t be afraid to fry the eggplants. If you take the time to salt them before cooking and to drain the oil afterward, I promise that the dish will not be greasy. I have seen too many versions of this sauce with baked or grilled eggplants, it can be nice enough, but it is never as spectacular as the original.

Many years ago, Tea and I made a video on how to deep-fry eggplants. For pasta alla Norma I actually dice them, salt them and shallow fry them, but I think the video is still useful in case you have never done it.


Recipe

Ingredients

For the busiate pasta

  • 200 g (7 oz) fine semolina flour
  • 100 ml (approx 1/2 cup) water
  • For the sauce
  • 1 medium eggplant, about 350 g (3/4 lb)
  • 1 400 g (14 oz) can crushed or peeled tomatoes
  • 4-5 large basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
  • 3 tablespoon white wine
  • 2-3 tablespoon grated ricotta salata or Parmigiano
  • vegetable oil for frying (I use organic sunflower oil)

Directions

To make the busiate:

Transfer the semolina in the food processor then start it on high speed. Add a pinch of salt then start adding the water. Please don’t add the water all at once. The dough must be firm but pliable so you might need to adjust the amount of water depending on the percentage protein of the flour you are using.

I use semolina with 11% protein, but for example, King Arthur semolina has 12% protein so you might need to add more water to obtain a proper dough. Once the dough forms a ball, transfer it onto your worktop, then press a finger in it. If it’s elastic and the mark of your finger disappears, it’s done.

Cover with an inverted bowl and let it rest for a minimum of 20 min. Using a rolling pin, flatten the ball into a 1.5 cm (3/4 inch) thick circle.

recipe busiate Sicilian pastaCut the dough into 1.5 cm (3/4 inch) strips.

how to make busiate Sicilian pasta

Roll each strip into a long, thin cylinder, about the thickness of a pencil.

how to roll busiate pasta

The busiate are shaped like a spiral. To form the spirals, take one cylinder of dough and lay it on your worktop.
Place a skewer at 45° angle with the cylinder.

how to shape busiate pasta

Gently press the dough around the skewer and roll it under the index and medium fingers to create the shape. The dough should wrap around the rod in a tight spiral.

Carefully slide the shaped pasta off the skewer and set it aside to dry on a dry surface, for example, a kitchen towel.

traditional busiate pasta recipe roll

To make the sauce alla Norma

For the eggplants

Zebra peel the eggplant and cut it lengthwise into 1.5 cm (1/2 inch) thick slices. The eggplant skin is often bitter and/or tough, so it’s always a good idea to remove at least part of it. Dice the slices into cubes of approximately 2.5 cm (1 inch) side.

Place the diced eggplants in a colander placed over a bowl. Sprinkle generously with salt, tossing to coat evenly. Let the eggplants sit for at least 20 minutes to draw out excess moisture.

After 20–30 minutes, dry the eggplants with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. Ensuring they are dry will help them crisp up better during frying.

Preheat a thick bottom frying pan or wok, then cover the bottom with vegetable oil to a depth of about 1 cm (1/2 inch). Transfer one eggplant cube into the oil, if it sizzle, add all other cubes into the pan and fry, stirring often, until the eggplants are lightly golden brown. Remove from the hot oil with a slotted spoon and place back into the colander to drain the oil.

For the tomato sauce

In a large shallow pan, sauté the onion in extra virgin olive oil on a low heat, covered. When the onion is translucent and slightly caramelized, deglaze with the wine, allow it to evaporate and then add the tomatoes and 2-3 whole basil leaves. Cover and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes until slightly thickened.

Assemble the pasta alla Norma

Bring to the boil a pan of well salted water, then cook the busiate for 1.5 to 2 minutes. The cooking time varies with the thickness of the pasta, so start tasting after one minute and every 30 second to avoid overcooking.

Transfer the fried eggplants into the tomato sauce and reheat if needed. Strain the busiate with a large slotted spoon and transfer into the sauce, stir, and serve with additional basil leaves and a generous sprinkle of grated aged ricotta, ricotta infornata or Parmigiano.
busiate pasta alla norma

Serves 2-3.

Sicilian Busiate Pasta alla norma

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