What’s for dinner: Pasta alla Norma

At last, an opportunity to use ricotta salata cheese, now that I’ve found a place that sells it. But file this under “Coincidence?”: the last recipe I tried that called for ricotta salata also (1) was from Cook’s Illustrated, and (2) called for eggplant, pasta, tomato sauce, basil and red pepper flakes. Jeez, upon comparison, isn’t this pretty much the same dish? I went for the Pasta alla Norma variation that included olives and capers, or it might have been damn close.

Cost of ingredients: Around $18. It is, however, a case of many “twices.”

  • First, the recipe calls for a large globe eggplant, around 1.5 pounds, but all the ones at the grocery store topped out around 1 pound. So to follow the recipe I needed to buy TWO — and got charged per eggplant, instead of by weight.
  • The recipe calls for two anchovy fillets, but unless you live in a city with an Italian market, you’ll be forced to buy a can that has more than twice as much. (And are you gonna store anchovies in your fridge?)
  • Same for the kalamata olives — ones at the olive bar, where you could parcel out the quantity you want, usually aren’t pitted and if you think I’m pitting a half-cup of olives myself, you’re nuts. Hello, jar with twice as much as I need.
  • Plus, last weekend at the cheese store I just rattled off a random weight when the owner asked how much I wanted — at $5.56, it was twice as much as was needed here. (It’ll keep, though.)

I already had the pasta, garlic, red pepper flakes, capers, parsley and olive oils.

Substitutions: Gluten-free quinoa pasta: All we had was shells, though, which were much less tasty than the spirals. I think the shape of the pasta had a lot to do with it — if you wait for the insides to be cooked, the edges are mushy; if you don’t, the insides are gritty.

As easy as they said? If you follow the instructions you’ll be fine — but I  wonder about some of the decisions. Why did I need to cover a plate with two layers of coffee filters, then coat them with cooking spray, before popping the eggplant in the microwave to dry it? How salty was it going to be when I add a half-cup of slivered kalamata olives plus 2 tablespoons of capers plus salted cheese to a recipe that serves four?

How’d THAT go over? So salty. I don’t think I’ve ever drank that much water at dinner before. I’m still thirsty now, a half-hour later.

Would I make it again? Maybe? Truthfully, I’d probably just make the rigatoni recipe and use the right cheese this time. I didn’t like Norma that much.

WHAT SAM WORE: 12-22-09
The sweater: Lambswool/cashmere collared pullover from Banana Republic.
The shirt: Spread-collar cotton dress shirt by Thomas Dean,
on sale at Dillard’s. (I went shopping for myself this weekend.)
The pants: Boot-fit trousers from Banana Republic.
The shoes: Black “platypus” lace-ups by BCBG Max Azria,
from Saks Off 5th at Arizona Mills mall.
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