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Meatless Monday: Pasta alla Norma “Nuda”

Meatless Monday is a global movement, a way of life. It’s not a campaign to turn everyone in the world vegetarian or vegan; in fact, many involved are meat-lovers. Eating less meat has been proven to reduce the risk of disease, curb obesity and has important environmental impacts, too. Will you join us in giving up meat, just for one day a week?

Pasta is great for Meatless Mondays because there are so many options. You can serve it cold or hot, add any number of veggies, make a sauce or just drizzle with oil or even give it an Asian flare. There’s no excuse to get bored.

When the weather starts cooling down, comfort food is what I crave most. While it’s not freezing yet in NYC, it feels more like fall. To kick off the season, I’ll be making Pasta alla Norma. With meaty eggplant in a simple tomato sauce, it’s a hearty, rustic dinner perfect for Meatless Monday.

Although it’s traditionally tossed with ricotta salata, Italian duo Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar skip the aged cheese and call their version Pasta alla Norma “Nuda.” I love this recipe because of how flexible it is. Their directions call for a grill, but everything can easily be cooked stove-top. Sub in whatever pasta you have on hand, but remember ridges are great for soaking up the sauce. Basil and Parmigiano Reggiano are optional, but highly recommended.

Pasta alla Norma “Nuda”

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 small red onion, diced small
Pinch red pepper flakes
Three 15-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
2 tablespoons salt, plus more for sprinkling
Freshly ground black pepper, for sprinkling
2 medium eggplants, sliced into thin rounds
2 fresh bay leaves
2 pounds rigatoni
Fresh basil leaves, for garnish, optional
Parmigiano Reggiano, for serving, optional

Bring a large 10- to-12-quart pot of water to a boil over high heat.

Preheat a grill (wood, charcoal or gas) to medium-high direct heat, or, alternately follow this recipe using an indoor stovetop. (Please note, if cooking on a grill, be sure your pan is heavy-bottomed and doesn’t have plastic handles.)

Add the oil to a large pan set on the grill grate. Once hot, add the onions and saute until soft, but don’t let them brown. Add the red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, but don’t let them burn. Add the crushed tomatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Simmer the sauce on a medium-low flame, about 20 minutes. Thrive for balance in the consistency of the sauce; it has to be fluid, but it should not look wet. If the sauce is liquidy, cook it a bit more.

Meanwhile, sprinkle the eggplant slices with salt and pepper. Drizzle the eggplant with some oil, and grill in batches, until they are marked by the grill and cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer the eggplant to a large plate or sheet tray and allow to cool slightly. Slice the grilled eggplant into smaller, bite-size pieces. Add the eggplant to the sauce, along with the bay leaves.

Once the pot of water is at a boil, and the sauce has been simmering, add the 2 tablespoons salt to the water. Add the rigatoni. Cook until al dente, then drain well. Add the rigatoni to the sauce and toss. Remove the bay leaves before serving. Serve with basil and Parmigiano-Reggiano at the table as an optional garnish for guests.

Cook’s Note: Canned tomatoes vary brand by brand. Some have more water content. If you find your sauce is watery, cook it a little longer.

More Hearty, Meatless Pasta Ideas:

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