In his restaurants and food ventures such as Del Posto and Eataly, restaurateur Joe Bastianich, author of The New York Times best-seller Restaurant Man, is known for his Italian sensibility — using high-quality, local ingredients prepared as simply as possible. This is a primo example: a dish with its roots in Sicily, from whence hailed composer Vincenzo Bellini. His 1831 opera La Norma has long been believed to be the source of the time-honored name of this homey pasta dish, honoring both the opera and the typical dish of its composer's birthplace.
Noted Italian food writer Giuliano Bugialli, however, whose opinion is usually well worth hearing, feels this is nonsense, that the name simply means "pasta in the usual manner," a nod to its everyday status in Sicily. That's a far less romantic story, but whichever one you prefer, there's no denying the homey, hearty appeal of a plate of tender pasta, fried eggplant cubes, tomato sauce, and cheese.
In Sicily, the usual finish is a sprinkle of salty, dry ricotta salata, but that can be difficult to find in the States. Bastianich embellishes his version with onions for extra flavor and finishes it with a dollop of creamy ricotta. Even Bellini would have to be pleased with that.
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