Sicilian-style mini penne

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PRESENTATION

The one thing that most accurately characterizes people from Naples is their great sense of imagination and their ability to continually reinvent themselves, and this trait also manifests itself in the rich and varied cuisine of the Campania region, inspired by distant lands such as Poland, with the Neapolitan babà rum-soaked sponge cake, and France, with the traditional sartù di riso rice dish, as well as other territories much closer to home, such as Sicily. The Neapolitans were so impressed by the charm of authentic Sicilian cuisine that they tried to put their own twist on a dish as iconic as pasta alla Norma in the form of pasta alla siciliana. The ingredients used in this dish are clearly inspired by the traditional pasta alla Norma, with the exception of the salted ricotta cheese, replaced here by fresh mozzarella. The type of pasta used, so short and delicious, will make all the difference, and there are even some differences in the method compared to the original Norma, especially where the sauce is concerned, and... well, we don’t want to give too much away! Read on to find out how to prepare this delicious Sicilian-style mini penne pasta – the perfect dish for Sunday lunch or an informal dinner with friends.

INGREDIENTS
Ingredients for 4 x 1¼ cup (300 ml) bowls
Mini Penne Rigate pasta 0.5 lb (240 g)
Eggplant 0.8 lb (350 g)
Canned tomatoes 1 lb (400 g)
Mozzarella cheese 0.5 lb (250 g)
White onions 1 cup (50 g)
Extra virgin olive oil 2 tbsp (25 g)
Peanut seed oil 1 ½ cup (300 g) - for frying
Fresh chili pepper 1
Basil to taste
Coarse salt ¾ tbsp (20 g)
Fine salt 1 pinch
Preparation

How to prepare Sicilian-style mini penne

To prepare your Sicilian-style mini penne, begin by washing the eggplant, removing the two ends and cutting it first into slices 1 and then into sticks ½ inch (1 cm) thick that you’ll then dice 2. Place the diced eggplants in a colander, and place this over a container. Sprinkle with coarse salt 3,

and place a plate over it with a weight on top 4. Leave it like this for at least an hour so that the salt flushes out the bitter vegetable water from the eggplant 5. After this time, rinse the cubes briefly under running water 6 to remove any excess salt

and dry them with a clean cloth 7. Fry in plenty of boiling oil, adding a few cubes at a time 8 to avoid lowering the temperature of the oil too much, as it should remain at 340-350°F (170-180°C). Once the eggplant has cooked for a few minutes, drain it on paper towel 9.

Cut the mozzarella into thin slices of around ¼ inch (½ cm) thick and then into strips of the same size 10. Finally, chop it into very small cubes and place in a colander positioned over a container 11. Leave it like this for at least an hour, so that all the liquid drains from the fior di latte 12.

In the meantime, prepare the tomato sauce. Peel and chop the onion 13, slice the chili pepper, remove the stem 14, and cut into thin strips. You might also want to remove the seeds if you want to tone down the spice! Next, pour some oil into a pan, add the chopped onion and chili and fry for a few minutes, stirring continuously to make sure they don’t burn 15.

Once the onion has softened, add the peeled chopped tomatoes 16 and cook for at least half an hour over low heat, seasoning with salt to taste. When the sauce is ready, add the fried eggplant 17, allowing the flavor to infuse into the sauce 18 for a few minutes before turning off the heat.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water 19, taking care to drain it a couple of minutes before it’s cooked, and pour it into the sauce with the eggplant 20. Tear up the basil leaves with your hands and add them 21

together with the diced fior di latte, setting some aside for the garnish 22. Mix everything together, still with the heat off 23. Fill four 1¼-cup (300-ml) bowls with the mixture 24

and garnish with a few pieces of the remaining fior di latte on the top 25. Place your bowls on a baking sheet and broil them in an oven preheated to 460°F (240°C) for 2-3 minutes until a crust has formed on the surface 26. At this point, your Sicilian-style mini penne will be ready 27. Serve piping hot, and enjoy!

Storage

These Sicilian-style mini penne are best prepared and consumed immediately and, once cooked, they can be kept in the refrigerator for a day, covered with plastic wrap. The sauce, including the eggplant, can be prepared a day in advance and stored in a sealed glass container in the refrigerator. The mini penne can also be frozen once cooked.

Tips

For a more intense flavor, use tomato passata in your sauce. Replace the fior di latte with buffalo mozzarella or smoked fresh provola for a stronger flavor.