What is Pasta alla Norma?
Like many Italian recipes, we don’t exactly know how Pasta alla Norma came about, nor do we know exactly where the name comes from. Was it inspired by Norma, Bellini’s symphony? Was it named alla Norma because it defines the “norm” in Sicilian food? And if so, what does that actually mean? We don’t know, and to be honest, we don’t care. This recipe packs a lot of flavor and will hit your palate with an unforgettable richness. It’s the perfect late summer dish, when eggplants are at their peak. This recipe is such a classic you’ll even find it on the menu at pizzerias, where they twist it into Pizza alla Norma. But today we’re talking about pasta, not pizza. So get a crisp white wine out of your fridge and let’s get to it. You’ll want something that will balance the sweetness of the sauce. Maybe a rosè.
Ingredients for Pasta alla Norma
First of all, you need ricotta salata, aka salted ricotta. Luckily that’s readily available these days, even for those of us who don’t live in Sicily. If you are not familiar with it or if you wonder what you’re going to do with that big hunk of cheese after you’ve finished this recipe, fear not. Once you try ricotta salata, you’ll be hooked for life. You will use it casually as a pinch of salt and find every opportunity to grate it somewhere. Sometimes even in questionable pairing. But I digress.
The second ingredient is fried eggplant. Whether you like your eggplants diced or sliced is up to you, but you’re gonna have to fry them to a soft, toasty blond. If you are thinking about “healthier” alternatives like roasting, boiling or steaming them, I have only one word for you: abomination! Of course, I’m kidding. Cook them how you prefer; I just won’t watch. Air frying is a great alternative. Also, rather than salting the diced eggplant and leaving them to sit in a strainer for an hour, we prefer to immerse them in salt water for 15-20 minutes. It’s much faster.
Finally you will need a velvety tomato sauce with a garlic base. We have a fun recipe for skillet roasted tomatoes that would be the perfect starting point for your sauce. Even though it’s a bit time consuming, it’ll provide you with sweet, caramelized tomatoes that blend perfectly with the fried eggplant. Sound complicated? Maybe. But the reward is tenfold.
What kind of pasta should I use?
For Pasta alla Norma, we like to use short pasta with ridges. You’re going to have a nice sticky sauce that will want to cling to a textured surface. Rigatoni is my choice but anything short and chunky will do: paccheri, mezze maniche, conchiglie. As long the pasta size roughly matches the size of the fried eggplants.
For 4 people. They will tell you that 12 ounces of pasta is the perfect amount. I disagree. Cook the whole bag (one pound).
1 pound of rigatoni (one box)
1 1/2 pounds diced eggplants
2 cups tomato sauce (see notes below)
4 ounces grated salted ricotta
1 clove of garlic
2 TBSP Olivando Originale EVOO
Frying oil (peanut or sunflower)
Let’s start with the tomato sauce. You can follow our recipe for Skillet Roasted Tomatoes and then put everything in the blender. That will give you a very rich, garlicky tomato sauce.
Alternatively you can make a quicker version. Over medium-low heat, add 2 TBSP EVOO to a large pan. You’ll be use this pan to finish the dish, so use the big one. Add a clove of smashed garlic and sauté for 5 minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add a 15oz can of crushed or diced tomatoes and toss them into a pan with the garlic. Let the tomatoes cook gently, around 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and add few leaves of basil to the tomato sauce.
Now let’s get the eggplants ready. I like to cut them in 1/4″ slices and then chop them in 1″ long pieces. Around here they like to fry with sunflower seed oil. Otherwise peanut or canola oil works just fine. Cook the eggplant util soft and light blond. Transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb excess of oil. Try to resist the temptation to eat them at this stage.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt. Follow the package instructions for cook time, removing the pasta a few minutes before. I recommend transferring the pasta to the pan with a pasta spoon, but if you drain over the sink, be sure to reserve some of some of the pasta water. Add more cooking water if the sauce gets too thick. Then add fried eggplants and grated ricotta. Stir to combine.
Now, if you are a cheese person, you my want to save some of the grated ricotta to use it as garnish after plating. Give each plate a swirl of Olivando EVOO and top with a few basil leaves for garnish.
If you make it, be sure to tag us and use #olivando. While you’re at it, are we social yet? Give us a follow!