Runner Beans

June 24, 2010

Pasta alla Norma

Filed under: dinner, pasta, Recipes — Tags: , — Andrea @ 4:42 pm

Pasta alla Norma

Pasta alla Norma

Pasta alla Norma. Whenever I hear the name of this dish, I can’t help but wonder who’s Norma? Turns out I’m not the only one wondering this: Google “Pasta alla Norma” and you’ll see scores of self-proclaimed pasta aficionados quibbling about the dish’s elusive name.

Some say the Sicilian pasta dish thick with meaty eggplant and spicy tomatoes is named after the heroine in Bellini’s opera Norma. In the opera, the druid priestess heroine perishes alongside her lover on a burning pyre, perhaps reminiscent of the spicy red sauce. Others say the dish’s name simply means “in the normal tradition,” while others—probably the least likely, but I’m certain I read it somewhere—believe the name recalls an archetypal Italian grandmother who spent hours in her kitchen crafting homemade pasta and coaxing bright red tomatoes and eggplant into a thick sauce.

Origin aside, the name (and the image of the Italian grandmother) stuck with me, and last night I decided Pasta alla Norma would be a fitting dinner to soften the chill of a foggy San Francisco summer evening. Jamie Oliver’s recipe for Pasta alla Norma yielded just the sort of comfort food I was hoping for—steaming hot tomatoes and eggplant, chewy pasta and a kick from the red chili. I may not know for certain who Norma is, but I know this: I like her pasta.

The Basic Method

(Click here for the detailed recipe including the ingredient proportions)

First, panfry the eggplant and dried oregano in a skillet. Be warned: this step can take a while because the eggplant must be fried in batches in order to brown the eggplant evenly. Alternatively, you could broil the eggplant in the oven. Pasta alla Norma purists, however, say this method destroys a texture only possible by pan frying. You choose.

Put all the browned eggplant back in the pan. Stir in canned tomatoes, a dried red chili, garlic, basil stems and white wine vinegar. Simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile cook your pasta of choice. Jamie Oliver uses spaghetti, but I used fusilli (corkscrew) because I like how the spiral traps the tomato sauce. My fusilli were whole wheat, which works well with hearty sauce. Before you drain the al dente pasta, reserve about ¼ cup of the pasta water to incorporate in the sauce later.

Drain the pasta, toss it in the skillet with the sauce. Add the reserved pasta water, half the cheese, half the basil and a drizzle of olive oil. Let the pasta mixture simmer for a few minutes so the elements meld.

Spoon onto plates and top with remaining cheese and basil.

January 25, 2010

Linguine with Clams

Filed under: pasta, Recipes, seafood — Tags: , , — Andrea @ 6:32 pm

linguine with clams

Linguine with Clams

A couple months ago Sam and I were given the Williams-Sonoma Bride & Groom Cookbook by our friend Sara. We were delighted to discover that the writers of the cookbook are the married chefs of Foreign Cinema restaurant, our favorite restaurant in San Francisco. We were even happier when we tried this recipe and it turned out so well. The dish comes together in a snap: while the linguine is cooking, steam the clams in white wine, olive oil and garlic. Garnish with lemon zest and parsley and enjoy!

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Servings: 2


1 lb fresh clams such as littleneck or Manila, preferably baby clams

½ lb. dried linguine

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 large clove garlic, peeled and left whole

¼ cup dry white wine

Kosher salt

Extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp grated lemon zest

1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley


Rinse the clams under cold water and rub away any dirt with your fingers. The clams should glisten and feel clean. Discard any clams that do not close to the touch.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the linguine and cook until al dente, tender but firm, according to the package directions.

While the pasta cooks, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the clams, garlic, and wine. Cover and steam until the clams begin to open, 3-5 minutes. For clams that do not open, try to open them by inserting the flat end of a pair of tongs between the shells. If they open easily, return them to the pan. Discard any clams that do not open easily.

Drain the linguine thoroughly and add to the pan with the clams. Season the linguine liberally with salt and mix in a generous drizzle of olive oil. Toss. Divide the linguine between warmed plates. Ladle the clam mixture over the pasta with the clam juices. Drizzle with more olive oil and sprinkle the lemon zest and parsley on top. Serve at once.

p 141, The Bride & Groom Cookbook, by Gayle Pirie & John Clark, chefs of Foreign Cinema

June 10, 2009

Spaghetti with Tomatoes, Arugula, Capers & Olives

Filed under: pasta, Recipes — Tags: , , — Andrea @ 9:44 pm

06 04 09 tomato pasta 042

Spaghetti with tomato sauce is a classic go-to dish for busy weeknights. If you’re getting tired of jarred tomato sauce, consider using fresh tomatoes, peppery arugula and briney capers and Kalamata olives to switch things up a bit. This recipe doesn’t even require you to cook the sauce; simply mix together the sauce ingredients, let sit for 30 minutes and add hot spaghetti noodles.

While the dish was simple to make and very flavorful, I wish there was more cohesiveness between the tomatoes and the pasta. I saved out some of the pasta cooking water to try to meld the tomatoes and the noodles when I mixed them together, but it still was not as cohesive as I would have liked. Perhaps this is simply the nature of a pasta dish that uses raw rather than cooked tomatoes. Any thoughts or solutions?

Serves four.

6 plum tomatoes, halved, juiced, seeded, chopped
⅓ cup halved pitted Kalamata olives
⅓ cup (packed) chopped arugula
⅓ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons capers, drained
3 garlic cloves, pressed
¾ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
3 anchovies, chopped (optional)

1 pound spaghetti (I used capellini)

Mix first eight ingredients (tomatoes through anchovies) in a large bowl; season to taste with salt and pepper. Let stand 30 minutes at room temperature for flavors to develop.

Cook spaghetti in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain. Return pasta to pot; add tomato mixture and toss. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to large bowl.

From The Bon Appetit Fast, Easy, Fresh Cookbook

Blog at