This spaghetti, named for the famous Sicilian opera Norma, is a classic. It was first made for the famous composer Vincenzo Bellini to remind him of Mt. Etna, the active volcano located in the western city of Catania, where he’s from. It’s said that the spaghetti represents the mountain, the eggplant is the lava, and the grated ricotta salata is the snow that caps Etna in the colder months. Etna is the first place on the island to get snow, and the last place the snow melts in the spring.
½ cup (about 2 ounces) grated ricotta salata, plus more for passing at the table
1. Pour enough olive oil into a large, deep frying pan to fill it 3 inches deep. Heat the oil until it is very hot but not smoking. (It will sizzle when you drop water in it.) Add the eggplant in batches, being careful not to overcrowd the pan, and fry until it is golden brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove the eggplant with a slotted spoon and place it on a thick bed of paper towels to drain.
2. Slowly heat the tomato sauce in a saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from sticking to the pot.
3. Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Stir in a small fistful of salt, a splash of olive oil, and the spaghetti. Boil the spaghetti, stirring often to prevent the spaghetti from sticking together, until al dente.
4. Just before the pasta is ready, stir the fried eggplant pieces into the sauce. Put about ½ cup of the sauce, ½ cup of boiling pasta water, and the butter in the bottom of a pasta bowl.
5. Use a spaghetti strainer to lift the pasta out of the water and into the bowl with the pasta sauce. Add all but a cup of the remaining sauce and toss to coat the spaghetti, adding more hot pasta water if the spaghetti is dry or sticky. Top with the remaining sauce and the grated ricotta salata. Serve immediately, with more grated ricotta salata on the table.
“Ricotta salata must be grated directly over the spaghetti, like snow falling on the mountain.”