The Best Pasta alla Norma Recipe | How to Cook It Like a Pro
One of the most beloved Sicilian pasta dishes has a strange name, “Norma”. This recipe is perfect for cooking on Mondays without meat and takes less than an hour to make.
Why is it called Pasta alla Norma?
No, this dish is not named after
an old Italian nonna, but is believed to be named after Vincenzo Bellini’s tragic opera of the same name. Playwright Nino Matroglio, a native of the Sicilian city of Catania, is said to have exclaimed that the tasty eggplant paste dish was a masterpiece just like the famous opera.
While the name pasta alla Norma may be a bit strange, the flavors are not. The simplest name, pasta alle melanzane e pomodoro (pasta with eggplant and tomatoes) tells you what you can expect to find on your plate.
By gathering fresh Italian tomatoes, creamy and tasty fried eggplants, and salty ricotta, you end up with a pasta sauce that’s perfect for any warm summer night
. Kitchen equipment for making pasta alla Norma
Norma does not require any special equipment to make. You simply need:
- A pan (or large skillet or even a Dutch oven) and a large pot to boil salt water to cook pasta
- A good cheese grater is always a great utensil for any cook in the kitchen, and you can use it for grated cheese unless you go for a dairy-free option and leave the cheese out.
anything about Sicilian cuisine, you probably know that this classic Sicilian dish and all other island recipes start with one important thing: amazing, fresh ingredients. In fact, the quality of the ingredients is always the top priority when making classic Sicilian recipes. Here’s a list of what you’ll need to make pasta alla Norma:
- Ziti macaroni or penne rigate pasta are large, round, short forms of pasta that perfectly support this pasta sauce. Be sure to follow the instructions on the package for cooking time so that the pasta remains al dente, or slightly firm.
- Eggplants should be round and firm with a deep violet color. Obviously, the best-tasting ones come directly from your own garden or farmers market, but you can also carefully select nice, firm eggplants from the grocery store.
- Extra virgin olive oil is an ingredient that should be a staple in your cooking. Not only is it a natural antioxidant, but it has more saturated (good!) fat than unsaturated fats and is rich in vitamins and minerals.
- or ricotta salata as it’s called in Italian, can be hard to find, but it’s worth the effort. This salty and creamy goodness is the perfect grated complement on top of the alla Norma pasta.
- Garlic is a key ingredient of this delicious recipe, but if you don’t like it, don’t hesitate to leave it out.
- may all look the same, but in Sicily they take their tomatoes very seriously. This pasta sauce requires chopped and peeled Roma tomatoes or you can substitute them with canned whole peeled tomatoes to make this rich sauce. Tomatoes are a great source of vitamin C.
- Oregano is an essential addition, whether dried or fresh.
- Fresh basil leaves are a must-have for this recipe, and basil is one of the easiest things to grow, even on 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.
Salted ricotta cheese,
Step by step instructions for pasta alla Norma
First cut the eggplant into thin 1/2-inch slices, sprinkle with salt and let “drain” for 30 minutes. Dry thoroughly with paper towels.
Then add the
extra virgin olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat and when it is hot add the eggplant slices several at once to fry lightly, turning to cook evenly. Sprinkle with oregano while cooking. Both sides should be golden brown. Remove and place on a plate.
Now that all the remaining eggplant is cooked, add it all back into the pan with the garlic and lower the heat. When the garlic is cooked add the tomatoes and simmer for 15 minutes.
Bring a large pot of kosher salt water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package instructions for al dente. Set aside a cup of the water in which the pasta was cooked before draining the pasta thoroughly.
Add basil, salt and pepper to taste to the sauce and then pour it over the pasta and mix, you can add pasta water if needed if the pasta sauce is too thick.
Fill the pasta and add some food-style touches like fresh basil leaves or fresh parsley and then grate ricotta salata on top.
Variations of the Pasta alla Norma recipe
At its base, this dish is a simple sauce of crushed tomatoes with cooked eggplants mixed with a short paste like macaroni or penne with some salted ricotta salata cheese.
If you want to reduce the calorie count of the dish, instead of frying you can roast or roast the eggplant slices, although it will not be exactly the same. Roasted eggplant has a more earthy flavor, but traditional recipes stick to frying 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 of southern Italian cuisine, simplicity is best. Just be careful to use only high-quality ingredients and you’ll be hard pressed with this satisfying vegetarian dinner.
Expert tip: Prepare eggplant slices
Most of us can conjure up some bad eggplant dishes we’ve tried in the past with soaked, gummy, or bitter eggplants that have ruined the entire flavor of the pasta dish. Fortunately, this can be avoided by following a few simple steps.
We recommend cutting the eggplant into thick slices, as described in the recipe, and then placing them with a pinch of coarse salt on top for at least half an hour.
This allows them to drain any bitter tastes that may be present. After the eggplant slices have released their bitterness, you simply have to rinse the eggplant and dry it gently so that it is ready for frying. Avoid at all costs placing wet eggplant in hot oil, as it will splash!
Try other pasta dishes from southern Italy:
- Authentic baked Ziti
- Sauce recipe Pasta alla Genovese Penne
Expert tips for making pasta alla Grilled
Norma If you choose to roast the eggplant instead of frying it, we recommend that you remove the eggplant and only add it back to the tomatoes after they are almost completely cooked to prevent the eggplant from becoming Break down too much.
Another alternative is to make roasted eggplant by cutting it into small eggplant cubes, pouring olive oil, sprinkling with salt and then roasting at 400°F until tender and golden. Roasted eggplant should be added to the dish at the same time you would add fried eggplant.
Dried red pepper
or red pepper flakes
These can also be added with garlic if you like a little spice to the dish and it is often added in traditional recipes
Super-fast version of Norma sauce
For a faster version of the dish, start with oil and add garlic, and then add eggplants and diced tomatoes at the same time. This preparation technique will be less tasty, but it can be ready in almost the time it takes to boil the pasta.
Pasta alla Norma
is a bright, summery pasta dish recipe, filled with sour tomato sauce and fried or roasted creamy eggplant. It goes great with southern Italian white wines, namely Falanghina and Greco di Tufo, or any Sicilian white you can find; an aromatic Sauvignon Blanc can be a great choice.
If it is absolutely necessary to drink red wine with this recipe, stop drinking Chianti and instead take a Sicilian red from the mountainside vineyards of Sicily’s still active volcano, Mount Etna. You’ll find these wines under the name Etna Rossa, and they have a richness that will pair nicely with eggplant while having the acidity to resist tomato sauce. In addition, it is a wine from the region where the recipe was created, that is always a victory!