I first noticed this eggplant recipe in Italian Cooking in the CIA atHome series (see my earlier review). It was delicious, so I did some research, experimented, and came up with my own version. Tradition has it that the name derives from the custom in Catania, Sicily, of using Bellini's opera title to describe whatever was especially good.
2 small eggplants
Oil for frying
1/4 cup olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 chili pepper, cut in half and seeded, or 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste)
1 3/4 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped; or a 26 oz. box of Pomi
1/2 cup grated ricotta salata*
Fresh basil, torn into small pieces, to sprinkle on top, if available
1 pound bucatini (hollow spaghetti), or 1 pound penne
After cutting off the ends of the eggplant, slice them across into 1/2" slices. Place in a colander either in the sink or with a bowl under it and salt the slices to draw out any bitter juices. If possible, press down with a bowl weighted with some cans of food. Let drain for at least an hour. Then rinse thoroughly and dry each slice.
Traditionally, the eggplant slices are then fried in oil until they are lightly brown on each side. If in doubt, undercook slightly, as you don't want them to fall apart when you slice them. Alternatively, you can oil a baking sheet and bake them at 350 degrees, turning once.
When they have cooled, slice the rounds into strips 1/2" wide. Cut the longer ones in two. Set aside some of the best looking ones for topping.
Heat the water for pasta. Salting it will improve the pasta's flavor.
Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Add some olive oil to a sauté pan over low heat and add the garlic and the hot pepper. When the garlic is just starting to color, add the tomatoes. Cook over medium heat, 20-25 minutes. If you used a chili pepper, remove the halves.
Boil the pasta until it's al dente. Drain, keeping back 1 cup of pasta water.
In a bowl, mix the pasta and tomato sauce and most of the eggplant slices. If the sauce seems too dry, add some of the reserved pasta water. Taste for seasoning. If the eggplant tastes bitter, add a pinch of sugar, mix, and taste again. Add the reserved eggplant on top. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with the torn-up basil and then the grated ricotta salata. Enjoy!
*Ricotta salata (salty ricotta) is made by salting and pressing fresh ricotta and then aging it for three months. It's somewhat like feta, but not as salty.