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I don’t pay attention to the weather forecast; I like to be surprised. I was totally caught off guard yesterday – summer came back for a visit. I had just taken the beach bag and chairs out of my trunk and returned them to their winter hibernation spot.

My plans for the day included switching over summer decor for fall, picking out pumpkins and corn stalks, maybe a bit of apple picking and something soul-warming in the slow cooker. One out of four wasn’t bad. I did switch over the summer wreaths for fall, added some grapevine and other pumpkins throughout the house. It was too hot for corn stalk, pumpkin and apple picking. And much too hot for a short rib stew.

After a trip to the Salem NH Farmers Market, I settled on a fresh pasta sauce. I picked up some heirloom cherry tomatoes, two small-ish eggplants and some basil. Together these make pasta alla norma.

This is a classic Sicilian pasta dish but the eggplant tends to be fried first. And the cheese topping is grated ricotta salata. I love the saltiness of ricotta salata; it reminds me of feta. I didn’t have; Parmigiano-Reggiano would have to do.

I’ve never made a tomato-based sauce in the slow cooker (at least that I can remember…) I peeled the eggplant because I wasn’t sure how soft the skin would be after simmering. I didn’t fry the eggplant either; I figured sitting in sauce all day would make it super soggy.

This was super easy and delightful with fresh pasta. My plan was to make ricotta gnocchi, but instead we picked up some fresh farfalle rotonde from the local Italian market. To get my ricotta fix, I served ricotta and oven-roasted tomato bruschetta on the side.

pasta alla normaWhat you need:

  • 1/3 c EVOO
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 small-ish or 1 lg eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 28-oz can San Marzano tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 1 c heirloom cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 c basil leaves, divided and cut chiffonade  style
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper
  • 1 lb fresh pasta
  • Freshly ground Parmigiano-Reggiano

What you do:

  • Heat slow cooker on low.
  • Add EVOO and garlic.
  • Cook for about 5 min.
  • Add eggplant and toss to coat.
  • Cook about 10 min.
  • Add canned tomatoes.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Reduce temperature to warm.
  • Cook for 3 hours.
  • Add cherry tomatoes.
  • Cook for another hour.
  • Bring lg pot of water to boil.
  • Add salt.
  • Add pasta and cook until just al dente, according to directions. My fresh pasta took 3 1/2.
  • Drain pasta.
  • Add to slow cooker.
  • Add about 1/2 basil to the sauce, reserve remaining.
  • Add red pepper.
  • Cook about 5 min.
  • Transfer to serving dish, garnish with basil and cheese.