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Pasta alla Norma combines hearty pasta with roasted chunks of eggplant in a homemade tomato sauce with grated cheese and fresh basil on top.
What is Pasta all Norma?
It’s a celebrated pasta and eggplant dish that originated in the coastal Sicilian city of Catania back in the 1800’s.
Originally called pasta con le melanzane (which translates to pasta with eggplant) this dish is said to have been renamed in honor of Catania native Vincenzo Bellini, who was the composer of the opera Norma.
The story goes that after one bite, Italian writer Nino Martoglio exclaimed, “This is a true Norma!” – or in other words, a true masterpiece.
To this day, Pasta all Norma is still very popular and as recently as 2018, it was named “dish of the year” by BIT, an international travel fair which gathers industry professionals and tourism boards in Milan Italy.
In addition to the eggplant and pasta; tomatoes, basil, and Ricotta Salata are must-include ingredients for this delicious dish. The combination of flavors in this dish are simply perfect.
Why you’ll love Pasta alla Norma
- This is delicious comfort food with a combination of earthy flavors that are simply perfect together.
- This dish makes a great meatless meal option for any occasion.
- It’s not a difficult dish to prepare, but you do want to allow yourself some time to salt the eggplant before frying.
Cooking with Eggplant
Be sure to salt eggplant before cooking to help remove any natural bitterness in the vegetable. (Allow yourself 30 to 60 minutes for this process.)
Rinse the eggplant slices after salt and before cooking to remove any excess salt and any bitter liquid that comes to the surface.
Key Ingredients & Substitutions
- Eggplant – Chose two or three small Italian eggplant totaling two pounds. The smaller eggplant tends to be less bitter.
- Tomato Sauce – You’ll make an easy homemade tomato sauce that consists of canned and fresh tomatoes along with extra virgin olive oil, onions, garlic, red chili flakes, dry oregano, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and fresh basil.
- Pasta – Chose a thick hearty pasta such as rigatoni, large penne, or ziti. We show rigatoni in our photos.
- Cheese – Ricotta Salata is the traditional cheese of choice for this recipe. It’s made from ricotta cheese that is salted, pressed, and aged. The texture is softer than Parmesan and firmer than ricotta. It is easily grated. If you can’t find Ricotta Salata, Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese can be substituted.
- Additional Fresh Basil and Olive Oil – For serving.
Special Tools Needed
- Large Deep Skillet or Braiser – This will be used for frying the eggplant
- Cutting Board and Sharp Knife
- Sheet Pan lined with Parchment Paper and a Rack
- Various Measuring Cups and Spoons
- Small Strainer
- Paper Towels
- Wooden Spoons
- Large Pot – To cook the pasta
- Spider Strainer or Slotted Spoon – To remove the cooked pasta from the boiling water.
How do I make Pasta alla Norma?
- Slice the ends from each eggplant, then slice lengthwise into three or four thick long slices.
- Place the eggplant slices on a rack placed over a sheet pan lined with parchment. Salt the tops of the slices. After 30 minutes, flip and salt the other side.
- While the eggplant sits, make the sauce by sauteing onions in olive oil. Add garlic and spices, then the fresh and canned tomatoes. Simmer for about 15 minutes and finish with fresh basil.
- Rinse the eggplant slices and pat dry with paper towels. Cut the eggplant into large chunks and toss with olive oil and salt. Roast for 25 minutes, flipping half way through. (You can also fry the eggplant if you’d prefer but roasting is less messy.)
- Cook the pasta per box instructions. Save some of the cooking water – you’ll use a slotted spoon or spider strainer to remove the pasta from the water in the next step.
- Assemble the dish by placing cooked eggplant and cooked pasta in the pan with the cooked sauce. Use pasta water as needed to loosen.
- Serve portions with a drizzle of olive oil, grated Ricotta Salata (or Parmesan) and chopped fresh basil on top.
More Cooking Tips
- The cooked pasta and cooked eggplant will be delicate so gently stir those into the sauce to avoid breakage.
- Note that this pasta dish is not meant to be drenched with sauce. The pasta and eggplant should shine with some sauce added. Having said that, if you prefer a very saucy dish, add an extra can of tomatoes when you prepare the sauce.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Can I make Pasta all Norma ahead of time? This is best served fresh, but you could make the sauce, roast the eggplant, and cook the pasta in advance. When ready, heat each component and combine for serving.
- How do I store leftovers? Store covered in the refrigerator for up to three days.
- How do I reheat leftovers? Reheat in a skillet with a little water, or microwave individual portions.
- Can I freeze? No – this dish will not freeze well.
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2 pounds small Italian eggplant (2–3 small Italian eggplants)
Kosher salt, for salting the eggplant before cooking
1 pound fresh tomatoes (Roma preferred, but any garden tomato will work)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 1/2 cups yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons fresh garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (more or less per your preference)
1 1/2 teaspoon dry oregano
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 28-ounce can whole canned tomatoes (we use Cento)
1/2 cup water
12 ounces large firm dry pasta such as rigatoni, penne, or ziti
1/2 cup fresh basil plus more chopped for serving
Ricotta Salata, grated (or Pecorino Romano or Parmesan if you can’t find Ricotta Salata)
- Cut the stem end from the eggplant. Slice some of the skin off from two sides then cut three of four thick long slices. Place on a rack over a sheet pan covered in parchment and generously salt the tops. This will remove bitterness from the eggplant. After 30 minutes flip, salt again and wait another 30 minutes.
- While the eggplant sits, prepare the fresh tomatoes. Place a strainer over a bowl. Cut core from tomato and cut in half. (Roma cut the long way, other tomatoes cut horizontally.) Reach in and pull out the seeds over the strainer. Once all tomatoes have been seeded, cut the tomatoes into pieces and place in the bowl with the juice from the seeds. Use the back of a spoon to press the seeds and pulp through the strainer. Discard the seeds and set the tomatoes and liquid aside.
- Preheat the oven to 435 degrees F.
- Rinse off the salt from the eggplant and pat dry with paper towels then cut the slices into strips, then into large two-inch sized chunks and place on a sheet pan covered in parchment. Coat with half the olive oil, one teaspoon of the salt and roast for 25 minutes, flipping the pieces over halfway through cooking. Set the pan aside.
- While the eggplant sits during the first salting to remove bitterness, start the sauce. In a large brasier or skillet over medium high heat, pour in the second half of the olive oil and once hot add the onions and cook for three minutes.
- Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, oregano, remaining teaspoon of salt, and black pepper and cook for one minute.
- Add the cut-up tomatoes and juice from earlier along with the can of whole tomatoes. Use the back of a large fork and press the big tomato pieces right in the pan to break them up. Place the half cup of water into the tomato can and slosh it around and then into the pan.
- Lower to a simmer and cook uncovered for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta per box directions.
- Once the pasta is cooked, use a spider to pull the pasta out and add to the sauce. If the sauce is too thick, thin down with a little pasta water.
- Gently stir in the cooked eggplant.
- Tear the fresh basil into pieces and stir it into the sauce and pasta and serve.
- Over each serving, drizzle on a little extra virgin olive oil, grated cheese and chopped fresh basil.
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