A Sicilian classic, spaghetti aIla norma, is best made at the height of summer when growers bring baby eggplants, fresh-picked garlic, sweet basil and vine-ripened tomatoes to your local farmer's market. The fresh flavors of the vegetables come alive when ricotta salata, a dried and salted sheep's milk cheese, is grated over the top. If ricotta salata is unavailable, substitute pecorino, a grating cheese made from sheep's milk.
3 small eggplants, about 1 1/2 pounds, 1/4" slicesCoarse salt3 tablespoons plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil3 cloves garlic, crushed4 cups plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, fresh or canned3 sprigs fresh basilFreshly ground black pepper1 pound dried spaghetti, linguine or fettuccine4 ounces ricotta salata, coarsely grated10 basil leaves, torn into small pieces
Preheat an oven to 375°F.
Place the eggplant slices in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Let drain for 30 minutes. Rinse the eggplant and dry with paper towels. Toss the eggplant with 3 tablespoons olive oil and place on a well-oiled baking sheet in a single layer. Bake, turning occasionally, until the eggplant is done and light golden, 15 to 25 minutes.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until golden. Increase the heat to high, add the tomatoes and basil sprigs and cook over until the liquid evaporates, 10 minutes. Remove and discard the garlic and basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. This sauce can be made a day in advance.
Bring a large pot of boiling salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, 7 to 10 minutes. Drain and toss with the eggplant and tomato sauce. Place on a platter, sprinkle with the ricotta salata and basil. Serve immediately.
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