30-Minute Dinner/ Dinner/ italian/ pasta/ vegetarian dinner

Pasta alla Norma – tomato and eggplant pasta recipe

19 March 2020

Pasta alla Norma is a Sicilian pasta dish made with tomatoes, eggplant and a large amount of cheese. It‘s really tasty, aromatic and quick to prepare. The Italians know very well how to create a delicious and easy dish with just a few ingredients!

tomato and eggplant pasta on a black plate

Tomato and eggplant pasta ingredients:

Pasta – in Sicily, busiate pasta is most often used. In other countries, when it‘s not easy to get, penne or rigatoni are recommended. 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 really fresh eggplants. A good and fresh eggplant should have a 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 eggplants are not very fresh you can peel them. This article lists 5 things to look for when buying an eggplant.

Tomatoes – out of the season you use canned tomatoes and in sommer – delicious and ripe fresh tomatoes. I used whole tomatoes in a can but you can of course use also crushed tomatoes.

Cheese – for the pasta alla Norma a firm variety of ricotta is being used – a ricotta salata. It‘s not easy to get (you can usually find it in a well-stocked Italian deli or in the internet). I live in Vienna so it wasn‘t so hard for me to buy it. 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 (in the step by step photos).

What kind of oil to use for cooking the eggplant: I’ve found that 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.

pasta alla norma on a black plate sprinkled with basil leaves and ricotta salata cheese

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:

  • Deep-fry the eggplant – this is how the eggplant is prepared originally for this dish. It’s very crispy and tasty but also very fatty (eggplant absorbs fat like a sponge). You also need to use much 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.
  • Roast the eggplant – this is better option if you’re counting calories, but on the other hand, you need to warm up the oven just to prepare 1 dish. 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-fry the eggplant – this is what I did. This method uses a medium amount of oil and it’s quick and easy. More on that below.

How to make it step by step:

Start with cooking 6.5 oz (180g) pasta. It should be cooked al dente, which means it should have a bite to it, it should not be too soft – this is overcooked pasta.

pan-fried eggplant in a pan, pecorino, parmesan and ricotta salata on a green plate

STEP 1: Pan-fry the eggplant:

Cut 1 large eggplant into 1 cm / ½ inch slices, then into 1 cm / ½ inch ‘fries’.

You can cook it right away or better, if you have time, sprinkle 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 for cooking oil on a large frying pan, spread the eggplant evenly, cook over high heat, without stirring, for about 3 minutes, then cook for 4 more minutes, stirring from time to time, until the eggplant is browned and tender. 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 are recommended to use. 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.

garlic and spices in a pan, tomatoes and basil in a pan

STEP 3: Make the sauce: Reduce the heat under the pan, 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, stir until almost completely evaporated.

STEP 4: Add 1 can 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.

tomato sauce in a pan, tomato sauce with eggplant and cooked pasta in a pan

STEP 5: Blend the sauce until smooth, season with salt and pepper to taste. You can use a hand/immersion mixer to do this, but I would transfer the sauce into a high-rimmed bowl first, as it tends to splash when blended directly on the pan.

STEP 6: Add the cooked pastagrated cheese and fried eggplant to the pan, mix together, season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve sprinkled with basil leaves and grated cheese.

Enjoy!

My other quick pasta recipes:

How to store this dish and make it ahead:

Pasta alla Norma tastes best prepared directly before serving. If you want to make it ahead you can make the sauce, but it will be a little less flavorful since the pan won’t be covered with brown bits from cooking the eggplant.

two plates with pasta alla norma (tomato and eggplant pasta)

Pasta alla Norma – tomato and eggplant pasta recipe

Pasta alla Norma recipe. It‘s a Sicilian pasta dish made with tomatoes, fried eggplant and a large amount of cheese. It‘s delicious, aromatic and quick to prepare.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes
Servings 2 servings
Calories 851kcal
Author Aleksandra

Ingredients

for the pasta:

  • 6.5 oz (180g)pasta fusilli or penne
  • 1 large eggplant / aubergine 320g / 11.3 oz, or 2 very small eggplants
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil for frying not extra virgin, you can also use another frying oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3 tablespoons dry white wine 45 ml
  • 1 can tomatoes 400 ml / 14 oz
  • 3 large fresh basil leaves or ½ teaspoon dried basil
  • 4 heaped tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese or ricotta salata firm ricotta
  • salt and pepper to taste

to serve:

  • grated parmesan or ricotta salata to sprinkle
  • fresh basil leaves

Instructions

  • Cook the pasta al dente (it should have a bite to it).
  • Cut the eggplant into 1 cm / ½ inch slices, then into 1 cm / ½ inch 'fries'. You can cook it right away or better, if you have time, sprinkle 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 fry and less oil can be used.
  • Heat the oil on a large frying pan, spread the eggplant evenly, cook over high heat, without stirring, for about 3 minutes, then cook for 4 more minutes, stirring from time to time, until the eggplant is browned and tender. Transfer to a plate.
  • Reduce the heat under the pan, add the finely chopped garlic and dried oregano (and dried basil, if you‘re not using fresh leaves), cook for 30-60 seconds, stirring, then add butter, cook until melted.
  • Add the wine, stir until almost completely evaporated.
  • 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.
  • Blend the sauce until smooth, season with salt and pepper to taste (you can use a hand/immersion mixer to do this, but I would transfer the sauce into a high-rimmed bowl first, as it tends to splash when blended directly on the pan).
  • 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.
  • Enjoy!

Notes

  • If you want to deep fry the eggplant: heat frying oil in a high rim frying pan/medium pot. The ideal oil temperature is about 180°C / 356°F. It must be well heated, so that the eggplant doesn‘t absorb much oil, but also not too hot – the fries will brown too quickly and won‘t be soft in the middle. Fry in batches, until the eggplant is nicely browned and soft. Do not throw all eggplant fries at once, the temperature of the oil will drop too much. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels.
  • Calories count = 1 serving (1/2 of the recipe).
  • Which pasta type to use: 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. I used fusilli because I like it and I just had it in my pantry.
  • Eggplant – make sure you buy really fresh eggplants. A good and fresh eggplant should have a 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 eggplants are not very fresh you can peel them.
Course dinner
Cuisine Italian
Keyword pasta alla norma recipe, tomato eggplant pasta

Did you make this recipe? Let me know how you liked it and give it a star rating in the comments below! You can also add a photo of your creation!

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Srecipe
    12 May 2019 at 08:06

    I never tried pasta with eggplant. What can I use instead of wine?

    • Reply
      Aleksandra
      12 May 2019 at 09:46

      Hi! Instead of wine, I would add maybe 1-2 tsp balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar to the tomato sauce (at the end of cooking time). Add a little brown sugar if it’s too sour. You can also omit the wine or vinegar completely, it’s optional. Let me know how you liked it : )

      • Reply
        SRECIPE
        13 May 2019 at 08:20

        Thanks dear for your suggestion.

        • Reply
          Aleksandra
          13 May 2019 at 11:59

          You’re welcome!

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