Pasta alla Norma

  • by Nonna Box March 21, 2020
  • |
  • Last Updated on November 17, 2022
Pasta alla norma recipe

One of the most well-loved Sicilian pasta dishes has a strange name, “Norma.” This recipe is perfect for meatless Monday cooking and takes less than an hour to make.

Why is it called Pasta alla Norma?

No, this dish isn’t named after an old Italian nonna, rather it’s believed to have been named after Vincenzo Bellini’s tragic opera of the same name. It is said that the playwright Nino Matroglio, a native of the Sicilian city of Catania, exclaimed that the tasty eggplant pasta dish was a masterpiece just like the famous opera.

While the name pasta alla Norma may be a bit odd, the flavors are not. The simpler name, pasta alle melanzane e pomodoro (pasta with eggplant and tomatoes) tells you what you can expect to find in your plate.

Bringing together fresh Italian tomatoes, creamy and savory fried eggplant, and salty ricotta, you end up with a pasta sauce that is perfect for any warm summer evening.

Kitchen equipment for making pasta alla Norma

Pasta alla Norma does not require any special equipment to make. You simply need:

  • A sauce pan (or large skillet or even a Dutch oven) and a large pot for boiling salted water to cook the pasta.
  • A good cheese grater is always a great utensil for any cook to have in the kitchen, and you can use it for the grated cheese unless you are going for a dairy free option and will be leaving the cheese out.

Ingredients for pasta alla Norma

If you know anything about Sicilian cuisine, you probably know that this classic Sicilian dish and all the other recipes from the island start with one important thing: amazing, fresh ingredients. In fact, the quality of the ingredients is always the top priority when making Sicilian classic recipes. Here is a list of what you’ll need to make pasta alla Norma:

  • Macaroni ziti or penne rigate pasta are largish, round, short pasta shapes that hold this pasta sauce perfectly. Be sure to follow the package directions for cook time so that the pasta stays al dente, or slightly firm.
  • Eggplants should be round and firm with a deep violet color. Obviously the best tasting ones come straight from your own garden or farmers market, but you can carefully select nice, firm eggplants from the grocery store as well.
  • Extra virgin olive oil is an ingredient that should be a staple in your kitchen. Not only is it a natural antioxidant but it has more saturated fat (the good kind!) than unsaturated and is rich in vitamins and minerals.
  • Salted ricotta cheese, or ricotta salata as it’s called in Italian, might be hard to find but it is worth the effort. This salty, creamy goodness is the perfect addition grated on top of pasta alla Norma.
  • Garlic is a key ingredient to this delicious recipe, but if you don’t like it feel free to leave it out.
  • Tomatoes may seem like they are all the same, but in Sicily they take their tomatoes very seriously. This pasta sauce calls for chopped and peeled Roma tomatoes or you can substitute with canned whole peeled tomatoes to make this rich sauce. Tomatoes are a great source of vitamin C.
  • Oregano is an essential addition, either dried or fresh.
  • Fresh basil leaves are a must for this recipe, and basil is one of the easiest things to grow yourself, even in a windowsill if you live in an apartment.
  • Crushed red pepper flakes are great if you want to add a spicy note or consider some freshly ground black pepper if you want just a little kick.

Step by Step instructions for pasta alla Norma

First slice the eggplant into ½-inch thin slices, sprinkle with salt and leave “drain” for 30 minutes. Pat dry well with paper towels.

Next add extra virgin olive oil to a large pan over medium heat and when it is hot add the eggplant slices several at a time to lightly fry, turning to cook evenly. Sprinkle with oregano as they cook. Both sides should be golden brown. Remove and set on a plate.

Now that all the remaining eggplant is cooked, add it all back into the pan with the garlic and turn down the heat. When the garlic is cooked add the tomatoes and simmer for 15 minutes.

Put a large pot of water with kosher salt on to boil. Cook the pasta following the package instruction for al dente. Set aside a cup of the water the pasta was cooked in before draining the pasta well.

Add basil, salt and pepper to taste to the sauce and then pour it over the pasta and toss, you can add pasta water if necessary if the pasta sauce is too thick.

Plate the pasta and add some food styling touches like fresh basil leaves or fresh parsley and then grate ricotta salata on top.

Pasta alla Norma recipe variations

At its base, this dish is a simple sauce of crushed tomatoes with cooked eggplant tossed with a short pasta such as macaroni or penne with a bit of salty ricotta salata cheese.

If you want to reduce the calorie count of the dish, instead of frying you can grill or roast the eggplant slices, though it won’t be quite the same. Roasted eggplant has an earthier flavor, but the traditional recipes stick to frying the eggplant in extra virgin olive oil.

Outside of Sicily, you will find a great deal of creativity, even to the point of including shrimp and other vegetables. But we believe that, as with most dishes in Southern Italian cuisine, simplicity is best. Just take care to use only high-quality ingredients and it will be hard to go wrong with this satisfying vegetarian dinner.

Expert Tip: preparing the eggplant slices properly

Most of us can conjure up some bad eggplant dishes we’ve tasted in the past with soggy, gummy or bitter eggplant that has ruined the entire taste of the pasta dish. Luckily, this is avoidable by following a few easy steps.

We recommend cutting the eggplant into thick slices, as described in the recipe, and then laying them out with a sprinkling of coarse salt on top for at least half an hour.

This allows them to drain away any bitter flavor that could be present. After the eggplant slices have released their bitterness, you simply have to rinse off the eggplant and gently pat it dry so it’s ready to fry. Avoid at all costs placing wet eggplant into hot oil as it will splatter!

Traditional Italian dish pasta alla norma

Try other Southern Italian Pasta dishes:

Pasta alla norma recipe

Pasta alla Norma

This wonderful recipe combines the flavors of Sicily like eggplant, tomato sauce , ricotta salata and extra virgin olive oil into the perfect vegetarian main dish. It's a delicious summery dish, which can be enjoyed paired with a Southern Italian white wine for an absolutely delicious meal.
4.59 from 12 votes
Print Pin Rate Save Recipe
Course: Pasta
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 4 people
Calories: 777kcal
Author: Nonna Box

Ingredients

  • 1 lb macaroni ziti, or penne
  • 1 lb eggplant round and firm
  • ½ to 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 to 4 cloves garlic sliced
  • 1 ½ lb tomatoes chopped. canned are fine if fresh Roma tomatoes aren't available
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano or 1 tablespoon fresh
  • ½ cup basil leaves
  • ½ to 1 cup salted ricotta grated
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Slice the eggplant into ½ inch thick slices and then lay them out to drain as described above by sprinkling them with kosher salt, then after 30 minutes rinse and pat dry with paper towels.
  • Once your eggplant has drained and been patted dry, add extra virgin olive oil to a large pan over medium high heat.
  • Add several slices of eggplant to the pan and lightly fry the eggplant, turning to fry evenly on both sides. You will need to cook the eggplant in batches so that it cooks properly.
  • Sprinkle a pinch of oregano on the eggplant as it cooks.
  • Cook until both sides of the eggplant are golden, then remove and place on a plate and cook the next batch (do not drain on paper towels).
  • When the last batch is golden, add all cooked eggplant back to the pan along with a little more olive oil if necessary and then add the garlic and turn the heat down.
  • Once the garlic is cooked, add the peeled and chopped fresh tomatoes or canned tomatoes. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Start a pot of boiling water for the pasta and add salt to the water. Cook according to the package instructions until al dente and then drain the pasta, setting aside one cup of pasta water.
  • Tear or chop up half of the basil and stir into the tender eggplant tomato sauce and add salt and pepper to taste. Next pour the sauce over the pasta and toss.
  • If necessary you can add a little of the pasta water to get the sauce to evenly coat the pasta.
  • Plate the pasta with sauce and sprinkle a generous amount of grated ricotta salata to taste and garnish with fresh basil leaves.

Notes

Expert tips
Grilling Eggplant
If you choose to grill the eggplant instead of frying it, we recommend removing the eggplant and only adding it back in to the tomatoes after they are almost fully cooked to prevent the eggplant breaking down too much.
Roasted Eggplant
Another alternative is doing roasted eggplant by cutting it into small eggplant cubes, tossing in olive oil, sprinkling with salt and then roasting at 400° F until tender and golden brown. The roasted eggplant should be added to the dish at the same time as you would add the fried eggplant.
Dried red chili or red pepper flakes
These can also be added with the garlic if you like a little spiciness to the dish and it is often added in traditional recipes.
Super quick version of Norma sauce
For a faster version of the dish, start with oil and add garlic, and then add cubed eggplant and tomatoes at the same time. This preparation technique will be less flavorful but can be ready in just about the time it takes to boil the pasta.
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Expert tips to make pasta alla Norma

Grilling Eggplant

If you choose to grill the eggplant instead of frying it, we recommend removing the eggplant and only adding it back in to the tomatoes after they are almost fully cooked to prevent the eggplant breaking down too much.

Roasted Eggplant

Another alternative is doing roasted eggplant by cutting it into small eggplant cubes, tossing in olive oil, sprinkling with salt and then roasting at 400° F until tender and golden brown. The roasted eggplant should be added to the dish at the same time as you would add the fried eggplant.

Dried red chili or red pepper flakes

These can also be added with the garlic if you like a little spiciness to the dish and it is often added in traditional recipes.

Super quick version of Norma sauce

For a faster version of the dish, start with oil and add garlic, and then add cubed eggplant and tomatoes at the same time. This preparation technique will be less flavorful but can be ready in just about the time it takes to boil the pasta.

Wine Pairing

Pasta alla Norma is a bright and summery pasta dish recipe, full of acidic tomato sauce and creamy fried or roasted eggplant. It goes very well with Southern Italian white wines, namely Falanghina and Greco di Tufo, or any Sicilian white you might find; an aromatic Sauvignon Blanc can be a great choice.

If you absolutely must have red wine with this recipe, pass up the Chianti and instead grab a Sicilian red from the mountainside vineyards of Sicily’s still active Volcano, Mount Etna. You’ll find these wines under the Etna Rossa name, and they have a richness that will go nicely with the eggplant while having the acidity to stand up to the tomato sauce. Plus, it’s a wine from the region where the recipe was created, that’s always a win!

FAQs

Is ricotta and ricotta salata the same thing?

Ricotta salata is not the same thing as ricotta. Technically, it starts out the same, but ricotta salata is pressed to remove the majority of the liquid and then aged for at least 3 months to dry it out further. Salata means salty because this cheese has a more concentrated and intense salty flavor than its mild, fresh version. It is great for grating over pasta.

Can I store recipe leftovers and for how long?

Yes, leftovers of pasta alla Norma are yummy. The pasta can be stored in an airtight container for a day or two but we don’t recommend freezing as both the pasta and eggplant turn into mush when defrosted. Consider not adding the basil and cheese to all the pasta when originally making it and just adding these items once plated. By doing this you can add these items fresh to perk up the dish when reheating it the next day. Baking it in the oven with a sprinkling of ricotta salata cheese is also a way to reheat.

One Response to “Pasta alla Norma”

  1. Ravin kumar says:

    Wow, this is such a great idea! Definitely gonna try them! Such a creative idea! This looks is so delicious. Thanks for sharing your information.

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