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Weekend Recipe: Pasta alla Norma

It's good to have a variety of pasta recipes at your disposal. The simplest sauces are often the most delicious, as is the case here with this pasta alla norma from America's Test Kitchen.

Photo courtesy America's Test Kitchen
Photo courtesy America's Test Kitchen

Pasta alla Norma
Serves 4

1 large eggplant (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium garlic cloves, mined or pressed through garlic press (about 4 teaspoons)
2 anchovy fillets, minced (about 1 generous teaspoon)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 pound ziti, rigatoni, or penne
6 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 ounces ricotta salata, shredded (about 1 cup) (or French feta, cotija, or Pecorino Romano)

1. Toss eggplant with 1 teaspoon salt in medium bowl. Line surface of large microwave-safe plate with double layer of coffee filters and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray. Spread eggplant in even layer over coffee filters; wipe out and reserve bowl. Microwave eggplant on high power, uncovered, until dry to touch and slightly shriveled, about 10 minutes, tossing once halfway through to ensure that eggplant cooks evenly. Let cool slightly.

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2. Transfer eggplant to now-empty bowl, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and toss gently to coat; discard coffee filters and reserve plate. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add eggplant and distribute in even layer. Cook, stirring or tossing every 1½ to 2 minutes (more frequent stirring may cause eggplant pieces to break apart), until well browned and fully tender, about 10 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and transfer eggplant to now-empty plate and set aside.

3. Add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, garlic, anchovies, and pepper flakes to now-empty but still-hot skillet and cook using residual heat so garlic doesn't burn, stirring constantly, until fragrant and garlic becomes pale golden, about 1 minute (if skillet is too cool to cook mixture, set it over medium heat). Add tomatoes, return skillet to burner over medium-high heat, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 8 to 10 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil. Add pasta and 2 tablespoons salt and cook until al dente. Reserve ½ cup cooking water; drain pasta and transfer back to cooking pot.

5. While pasta is cooking, return eggplant to skillet with tomatoes and gently stir to incorporate. Bring to simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring gently occasionally, until eggplant is heated through and flavors are blended, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir basil and extra-virgin olive oil into sauce; season to taste with salt. Add sauce to cooked pasta, adjusting consistency with reserved pasta cooking water so that sauce coats pasta. Serve immediately, sprinkled with ricotta salata.

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