When my son was little he had a VERY limited palate that largely consisted of one form of pasta or another. In an effort to expand his horizons and to keep me from getting incredibly bored, I would make individual spaghetti pancakes for him out of left-over pasta. It didn’t really matter if I had made a pesto sauce or a red sauce – pretty much any left-over pasta would work, including just butter, garlic, pepper and cheese.
The other day I was looking at one of the food blogs I follow and I saw a recipe for “Baked Pasta alla Norma.” I thought, wow, this is a great name and is sure to be something that I would want to make. When I actually got down to reading the recipe, I realized that it was just a fancy version of my old friend, the spaghetti pancake! Give it a try and if you have picky eaters, leave out the eggplant, hot pepper flakes and capers and simply add some extra cheese. It’s kind of hard to go wrong with a dish like this. So if you want sausage in your version, add some cooked, crumbled sausage or try zucchini instead of eggplant or add some sliced cured black olives. Use left-over pasta instead of making pasta just for the dish and make individual portions in smaller oven-safe frying pans or do it on your stove-top, flipping the “pancake” over half-way through until you have a nice crust on top and bottom and the egg is cooked through. Just have fun with it and if you want to tell your significant other that it is Baked Pasta alla Norma, I won’t tell them that it really is just spaghetti pancake.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 medium globe eggplant, peeled, cut into ½” pieces
2 pints cherry tomatoes
8 garlic cloves, smashed
¼ cup EVOO, plus more for skillet and drizzling
½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, plus more for sprinkling
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp. cream or milk
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
4 oz. finely grated Parmesan, divided (You could also use Asiago or Pecorino Romano or any combination.)
1 lb. spaghetti, linguine or other pasta
2 Tbsp. drained capers
Preheat oven to 425°. Combine eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, ¼ cup oil, and ½ tsp. red pepper flakes in a large ovenproof skillet, preferably cast iron. Season generously with salt and toss to combine. Roast, shaking skillet once or twice, until eggplant is tender and tomatoes burst, 25–35 minutes. Let vegetables cool while you prepare the pasta (watch out for the hot handle when you take the skillet out of the oven). Reduce oven temperature to 400°.
Whisk eggs, cream or milk and tomato paste in a medium bowl until smooth, then whisk in about three-quarters of Parmesan. (Truthfully, I just eye-balled how much cheese I used and put more on top to form a nice crust.)
Cook spaghetti in a pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Immediately drain pasta in a colander and shake to remove excess water; transfer pasta back to pot.
Add cooled vegetable mixture to pot with pasta. Wipe out skillet and drizzle in a little oil; roll around in skillet to coat. Add egg mixture to pasta and toss vigorously with tongs until pasta is evenly coated. Add capers and ½ cup basil and toss again to combine.
Transfer pasta mixture to skillet and press gently into an even layer. Top with remaining Parmesan, a few whole basil leaves, and an extra sprinkle of red pepper flakes, if desired. Drizzle with EVOO.
Bake pasta until surface is nicely browned, 30–35 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before cutting into wedges for serving. You can top with a few fresh basil leaves for a bit of color.