The success of this dish—also known as Pasta alla Norma—relies on the quality of the eggplant. Older, larger eggplants tend to hold bigger seed pockets and can be bitter, so look for small- to medium-size eggplants of any variety. If you cannot find ricotta salata, try a young pecorino or provolone.
Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons salt.
Meanwhile, In a 10- to 12-inch sauté pan, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Working in batches, sauté the eggplant slices, seasoning them with salt and pepper, turning once, until golden brown on both sides. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
Preheat the oven to 375°. Grease a 9" x 12" baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.
Cook the penne in the boiling water for 2 minutes short of the package instructions, it should still be quite firm. Drain and rinse under cold water until cool. Drain very well, place in a large bowl, and toss with 1 cup of the Basic Tomato Sauce
Cover the bottom of the dish with 1/4 cup of the tomato sauce. Top with half the breadcrumbs, then add half the pasta. Arrange half of the eggplant slices, overlapping them slightly on top of the pasta. Dot about 1/4 cup of tomato sauce over the eggplant and top with half of the pecorino cheese and half the basil. Top with the remaining eggplant over the pasta and dot with the remaining tomato sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining pecorino and basil and then the remaining breadcrumbs and drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
Bake for 45 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Place a generous portion of pasta on each plate, grate ricotta salata over and serve.
Recipe courtesy of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers