Remember our somewhat unsatisfactory attempt at the Pasta alla Norma from Cook's Illustrated? Well, based on your suggestions, recommendations, and encouragements, we decided to give it another go. As you can see in the photo, we got a very different result this time!
We made a few major changes this time around:
1. Larger Eggplant Cubes - We went with 1-inch cubes this time around, and still microwaved them as per the CI recipe. They shrunk a little, but were still substantial and meaty. In the sauce, they broke down a bit so that some eggplant melted into the tomatoes, but we still got some silky chunks in each bite - just what we were looking for! Oh, and we weighed our eggplant this time, and it was exactly 1.5 pounds.
2. Less Crushed Tomatoes - Last time, we felt like the tomatoes kind of took over the entire dish and overwhelmed the eggplant. Now that we had these great chunks of eggplant to work with, we wanted to be sure that didn't happen again. We started off pouring in 1/2 of a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes and eventually added another fourth, ultimately using 3/4 of the can. For us, this was the perfect balance. We also added a little to thin out the sauce and give it some body.
3. Less Pasta - We also felt like there was too much overall pasta in our previous attempt, which stretched the sauce and the eggplant too thinly. This time we decided not to toss the pasta with the sauce ahead of time, but instead to top a plate of pasta with a scoop of sauce. This way each of us could choose how much sauce we wanted (I wanted a lot, my fiance likes less).
With those few tweaks, this batch of pasta alla norma was exactly what we had imagined. This is really not to say that the CI recipe is wrong or incorrect in any way, but rather that we just needed to adjust for our own personal taste. Next time, we might even let the eggplant-tomato sauce simmer for a little longer so the eggplant breaks down even more into the sauce!
Have any of you made this recipe since we first posted about it? What are your impressions?
• See our original attempt here: Recipe Review: Pasta Alla Norma from Cooks Illustrated
Related: Learning to Love Eggplant: How to Pick 'Em, Cook 'Em, and Eat 'Em
(Image: Emma Christensen for the Kitchn)