Leesa Cross-Smith’s Pasta alla Norma
||In This Close To Okay, my character Tallie encounters a man named Emmett on a bridge in the rain. He’s considering suicide and Tallie is a therapist but doesn’t tell him that. Instead, she plays him some music and talks to him, listens to him, shares her heart with him. She convinces him to get in the car with her and she takes him out for a cup of coffee. They have old-fashioned pumpkin doughnuts too. Eventually, she invites him back to her home. When they get there, they change out of their wet clothes and make dinner together. They make rigatoni alla Norma and she says to him: “Everyone likes pasta, right? It’s comforting.”
They eat together and talk about their lives and slowly, the man begins to open up to Tallie as the rain falls against the windows.
There is a lot of food in This Close To Okay. My characters eat and make a lot of meals together. I always knew they’d make pasta as soon as they got back to her place because pasta is so comforting and making meals together can be so comforting too.
One of my favorite Pasta alla Norma recipes is from Jamie Oliver: Sicilian spaghetti with aubergine (eggplant), baby capers, and basil.
Leesa Cross-Smith's Pasta alla Norma
- 2 eggplants
- Sea salt
- 3 garlic cloves
- ½ bunch fresh basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried chile flakes
- Ground black pepper
- Olive oil, for sauteing
- 1 tablespoon capers
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 14.5 ounce can quality plum tomatoes
- 1 pound dried wholewheat spaghetti or rigatoni
- 2 ounces pecorino cheese
- Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
- Chop the eggplant into rough 3/4 inch chunks. Place into a colander in the sink, sprinkle with sea salt to draw out the moisture, then set aside for about 20 minutes.
- Peel and finely slice the garlic. Pick the basil leaves and finely slice the stalks. Rinse the eggplant and pat dry with paper towels. Place into a large bowl with the oregano, chile flakes, a splash of olive oil, and a pinch of sea salt and black pepper. Toss together well.
- Drizzle a splash of olive oil into a large frying pan over medium heat. Once hot, add the eggplant in a single layer, and fry for 5 to 8 minutes, or until softened and golden, stirring occasionally—you may need to do this in batches.
- Add another splash of olive oil, followed by the garlic, capers, and basil stalks, then cook for a further 2 minutes, or until golden. Stir in the vinegar and the tomatoes, breaking them up with the back of a spoon. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes, or until thick and glossy.
- Cook the pasta in a pan of boiling salted water until al dente, it should have bite and firmness to it. Drain pasta reserving a cupful of the cooking water, then add a good splash of the reserved water to the sauce.
- Finely grate the cheese and tear most of the reserved basil leaves. Add a glug of extra virgin olive oil, then season to taste. Add pasta to the sauce and toss well, adding an extra splash of the reserved cooking water to loosen, if needed.
- Divide between bowls, grate the remaining cheese over pasta, and finish with the remaining basil scattered on top.