Last week, I mentioned that I sometimes struggle with the recipes or kitchen processes that are most intuitive. I guess the exception to this would be pasta, which I nearly always make without a firm agenda in mind. Even the pasta recipes that I end up blogging about are nearly always happy accidents, weeknight meals that I realized were worth writing down because I liked them enough to make again and again. This simple vegan rigatoni alla Norma is one of them.
It’s been a summer of pasta, thanks in part to the fact that I’m cooking for one again, and I find it easy to make single serving pasta suppers. Whole grains really do best when you cook at least two portions’ worth at a time, but it’s easy enough to boil just enough pasta for one person while you cook up whatever vegetables and proteins you have in a small frying pan. When the pasta’s done, I mix everything together, and dinner’s on the table.
A couple weeks ago, I got a little dazed by the arrival of eggplant season and picked up eight (!) eggplants at the farmers market. Needless to say, I got home and realized that, unless I quickly made my vegan eggplant rollatini or moussaka, I had more eggplant than I knew what to do with. Bulgur stuffed eggplants with tamarind, currants, and pine nuts was my first stop. And I knew that some sort of pasta dish would follow.
Pasta alla Norma is a Sicilian dish made with eggplant, tomatoes, basil, and—traditionally—grated ricotta salata. The eggplant is supposed to be crispy, so it’s often pan-fried before the other ingredients are prepared. Aside from being vegan, this recipe is taking some liberties in that the eggplant is lightly sautéed, not fried, and then the tomatoes are added to the same skillet, making the sauce a one-pot affair. You lose a bit of crispiness in the eggplant, but I love how streamlined the process is, and I also appreciate that the sauce ends up being a bit lighter than a traditional version.
I thought about adding some of my go-to cashew cheese or hempesan to the pasta, but once I tasted it—freshly folded together and topped with a heaping amount of fresh basil—I honestly had no craving for vegan cheese (and I usually add vegan parm to everything). I folded some capers into the sauce, which isn’t necessarily a customary addition to the recipe, but it felt in keeping with Sicilian cuisine overall. And it added that briny, salty quality that a hard cheese would probably contribute. If you’re keen to add some vegan cheese, though, don’t let me stop you.
I’ve been learning a lot about spontaneous pasta cookery from Colu Henry’s Back Pocket Pasta this summer. In her eggplant alla Norma recipe, she recommends not salting the eggplant before cooking, so that it gets crispier. I’ve tried the recipe both ways now, and think I do prefer salting it first: the eggplant stays tender and sweet while browning at the edges. That said, you don’t have to salt if you’re pressed for time: it’s a worthwhile step if you’ve got some wiggle room before dinner, and it won’t make or break the recipe if you don’t.
Plum, juicy plum tomatoes take a starring role in the recipe, and mine were courtesy of the folks at Pomi. Pomi has been bringing fresh, high quality tomatoes from Parma to US homes for over 30 years. The tomatoes are packed in BPA-free cartons, and they come in strained and chopped varieties. The tomatoes are non-GMO, and now the company has a new, organic line, which I was happy to try.
Shelf-stable tomatoes are a pantry staple for me—I use them in soups, pastas, chilis, homemade sauces, and so much more—and these tomatoes are some of the freshest and sweetest I’ve tried. They’re also lower in sodium than any brand I’ve come across, which is nice because it means I can control seasoning when I use them. I love that tomatoes are in abundance where I live right now, but it’s also great to have tomatoes at the ready for cooking year-round, especially when they taste this fresh.
The rigatoni alla Norma is an easy meal for weeknight suppers. Once the sauce is ready, you simply stir in cooked pasta, garnish with basil, and get dinner on the table. If you’re cooking for one, you can make the whole batch of sauce, and then use it up with single portions of pasta over the course of a few nights, or you can freeze half of the sauce once it’s ready (or make a double batch, so that you’ve got plenty for future dinners).
You can head over to the Pomi website to grab the recipe and instructions. I hope you’ll enjoy it, and I look forward to checking in late this week with another easy meal—this one courtesy of Izy Hossack and her lovely new cookbook.
This post is sponsored by Pomi. All opinions are my own, and I love the quality and freshness of these tomatoes. Thanks for your support!