Pasta alla Norma is a Sicilian pasta dish made with flavorful tomato sauce and fried eggplant. It‘s so easy and quick to prepare and makes a satisfying vegetarian meal.
Pasta – in Sicily, busiate pasta is most often used. In other countries, where it‘s not easy to get, penne or rigatoni are often used. In fact, you can use many types of pasta, it all depends on how you‘ll cut the eggplant. If you‘re using penne it‘s best to cut the eggplant into big chunks, if spaghetti – into small cubes and in case of fusilli – into ‚fries‘, as in the recipe below. I used fusilli because I like it and I just had it in my pantry.
Eggplant – it’s the star of this dish, so make sure you buy a really fresh eggplant. A good and fresh eggplant should have shiny and smooth skin. Wrinkled and dull skin is a sign that the eggplant is old or was poorly stored, its skin will be most likely tough and chewy. If your eggplant is not very fresh you can peel it. This article lists 5 things to look for when buying an eggplant.
Tomatoes – out of the season you use canned tomatoes and in summer – delicious and ripe fresh tomatoes. You can use whole canned tomatoes/diced tomatoes/crushed tomatoes/or tomato passata. It doesn’t matter much what kind of tomatoes you will use, the sauce will be blended anyway.
Cheese – for the pasta alla Norma a firm variety of ricotta is traditionally used – a ricotta salata. It‘s not easy to get (you can usually find it in a well-stocked Italian deli or online). Ricotta salata‘s taste was a little bit surprising for me. It‘s a firm cheese so its flavor is intense but at the same time mild, delicate, and fresh. Other recipes call also for parmesan or pecorino cheese. I love Pecorino, but I don‘t recommend it here, it just doesn’t work very well, especially compared with the other cheeses. On the other hand, Parmesan is a great alternative, but I must admit that the ricotta salata is the best option here. Its fresh and milky taste perfectly cuts through the eggplants’ fattiness. In spite of that, I won‘t look for it next time so intensely, as this dish also tastes great with parmesan cheese.
Below you’ll find a photo showing all three kinds of cheese on a plate (in the preparation steps section).
What kind of oil to use for cooking the eggplant: I’ve found that the best for pan-frying the eggplant is olive oil for cooking. Don’t use extra virgin olive oil – it’s perfect for salad but it shouldn’t be used for cooking, it has a very low smoking point, which means it can burn pretty quickly. In this article, you can read more on oils’ smoke point.
Origin of the dish
The history of pasta Pasta alla Norma is as rich as the taste of this dish. Most probably it was named after the Vincenzo Bellini‘s Opera, called ‚Norma‘. The Italian writer Nino Martoglio after tasting this dish in the city of Catania, Sicily, had supposedly shouted ‘it’s a Norma’, comparing it to the famous opera.
How to cook the eggplant for pasta alla Norma
- Deep-frying – this is how the eggplant is originally prepared for this dish. It’s very crispy and tasty but also very fatty (eggplant absorbs fat like a sponge). You also need to use a lot of oil, and you have more dishes to clean. If you want to deep-fry the eggplant: heat a large amount of oil in a medium pot (the eggplant pieces should be able to swim freely in the oil) until it reaches 350°F (180°C). Add a couple of eggplant pieces (about 10-15) and cook them until they are lightly brown, turning them over once in the middle of cooking time. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain excess oil. Repeat with the remaining eggplant.
- Roasting the eggplant – this is a better option if you’re counting calories, but on the other hand, you need to warm up the oven just to prepare 1 easy pasta meal and you will have another dish to clean up. To roast the eggplant, brush it with oil on all sides, season with salt then bake at 425°F (220°C) for about 15-20 minutes or until soft and slightly browned.
- Pan-frying the eggplant – this is what I chose for this recipe. This method uses a medium amount of oil and it’s quick and easy. More on that below.
Start with cooking 6 1/2 oz (180g) pasta. It should be cooked al dente, which means it should have a bite to it and it should not be too soft (pasta that is too soft is overcooked).
STEP 1: Pan-fry the eggplant:
Cut 1 large eggplant into 1/2-inch (1.5 cm) slices, then into 1/2-inch (1.5 cm) “fries”/sticks.
You can cook it right away or better, if you have time, sprinkle it with a teaspoon of salt, wait 10-15 minutes, then dry thoroughly with paper towels. The salt extracts water from the eggplant, so it‘s easier and quicker to cook and less oil can be used (you don’t have to do this so that the eggplant is not bitter! It won’t be bitter if you don’t use salt).
Heat 4 Tbsp of olive oil or other cooking vegetable oil in a large frying pan. Add the eggplant, making sure it’s not overcrowded in the pan (cook it in batches if necessary). Cook for a couple of minutes over medium-high / high heat until well-browned on all sides and soft. Try to not stir it too often, letting it brown. Transfer to a plate.
STEP 2: Grate the cheese on the small holes of a box grater. You will need about 4 heaped tablespoons for the sauce and some more for sprinkling the dish.
Photo 2 shows 3 different kinds of cheeses that can be used for this dish. On the left is ricotta salata which is a hard variety of well-known ricotta cheese. It works well with this recipe but is unfortunately not easy to find. In the middle there’s pecorino cheese (with pepper) which I don’t recommend for this dish. On the right is the Parmesan cheese which is a great substitute for ricotta salata.
STEP 3: Make the sauce:
Reduce the heat to low, add the finely chopped 3 cloves of garlic and 1 ts of dried oregano (and 1/2 ts of dried basil, if you‘re not using fresh leaves), cook for 30-60 seconds, stirring, then add 1 Tbsp of butter, cook until melted.
Add 3 Tbsp of dry white wine and cook until almost completely evaporated.
STEP 4: Add 1 can of tomatoes, break them up into smaller pieces with a spatula, cook over low heat for about 5 minutes, adding 3 large basil leaves at the end.
Scrape all browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a spatula.
STEP 5: Blend the sauce until smooth, season with salt and pepper to taste. This step is optional but for me, the sauce tastes much better blended.
STEP 6: Add the cooked pasta, grated cheese, and fried eggplant to the pan, mix together, season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve sprinkled with basil leaves and grated cheese.
My other quick pasta recipes
- spaghetti alla Puttanesca
- pasta with zucchini bell paprika tomato and feta
- gorgonzola walnut pasta
- tuscan chicken with creamy sun-dried tomato and spinach sauce
- tuna pasta with tomatoes and olives
Any pasta tastes best freshly served because after some time the pasta absorbs the sauce and becomes rather soft and not al dente. Nevertheless, this dish reheats well and can be enjoyed for up to 3 days. Store it in the fridge. It would be better to store the pasta and sauce separately.
Did you make this recipe? RATE THE RECIPE or tell me in the COMMENTS how you liked it! You can also add a photo of your dish. It would make me very happy and will help other readers. Thank you!!
Pasta alla Norma (Tomato Eggplant Pasta)
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for the pasta:
- 6 ½ oz (180g) pasta fusilli or penne
- 1 large eggplant 11 oz or 320g
- ¼ cup (60ml) olive oil for frying not extra virgin, or you can also use other vegetable frying oil
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 3 tablespoons dry white wine 45 ml
- 1 can whole or crushed tomatoes 14 oz or 400 ml
- 3 large fresh basil leaves or ½ teaspoon dried basil
- 4 heaped tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese or ricotta salata firm ricotta not soft
- salt and pepper to taste
- grated parmesan or ricotta salata
- fresh basil leaves
- Cook the pasta al dente (it should have a bite to it).6 ½ oz (180g) pasta
- Cut 1 large eggplant into 1/2-inch (1.5 cm) slices, then into 1/2-inch (1.5 cm) "fries"/sticks. You can cook it right away or better, if you have time, sprinkle it with a teaspoon of salt, wait 10-15 minutes, then dry thoroughly with paper towels. The salt extracts water from the eggplant, so it‘s easier and quicker to cook and less oil can be used (you don't have to do this so that the eggplant is not bitter! It won't be bitter if you don't use salt).
- Heat about 1/4 cup (or more) of oil in a large frying pan. Add the eggplant, making sure it's not overcrowded in the pan (cook it in batches if necessary). Cook for a couple of minutes over medium-high / high heat until well-browned on all sides and soft. Try to not stir it too often, letting it brown. Transfer to a plate.
- Reduce the heat to low, add the finely chopped garlic and oregano (and 1/2 ts of dried basil, if you‘re not using fresh leaves), cook for 30-60 seconds, stirring, then add 1 Tbsp of butter, cook until melted.3 cloves garlic, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 tablespoon butter
- Add the wine and cook until almost completely evaporated.3 tablespoons dry white wine
- Add the canned tomatoes, break them up into smaller pieces with a spatula, cook over low heat for about 5 minutes, adding basil leaves at the end. Scrape all browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a spatula.1 can whole or crushed tomatoes, 3 large fresh basil leaves
- Blend the sauce until smooth, season with salt and pepper to taste. This step is optional but for me, the sauce tastes much better blended.
- Add the cooked pasta, grated cheese, and fried eggplant to the pan, mix together, season with salt and pepper to taste.4 heaped tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese or ricotta salata
- Serve sprinkled with basil leaves and grated cheese.
- Calories = 1 serving (1/2 of the recipe). This is only an estimate!