You'll love this Sicilian eggplant pasta dish known as Pasta alla Norma! It features sautéed eggplants, a simple tomato sauce and creamy, salty ricotta salata cheese.
This eggplant pasta dish from Catania, Sicily is a masterpiece, and that's why it's called "Pasta alla Norma."
The name refers to Vincenzo Bellini's opera "Norma," which was considered a masterpiece. When the Sicilian comedian Nino Martoglio tasted the pasta, he exclaimed in Italian, "This is a real Norma!"
Because when you take sautéed eggplants in olive oil and garlic, marry them with pasta and top them with a delicious tomato sauce with basil and heavenly ricotta salata cheese...it's pure magic!
See the card at the end of this post for the full recipe, but here's an overview with my recommendations.
Eggplant: You'll need two eggplants, weighing about one pound each. Try to find skinny, long ones, because they'll have fewer seeds than wider eggplants. The seeds are bitter.
Make sure to choose firm eggplants that aren't bruised. The tops should be green, not brown. If you don't see any that look good, ask someone from the produce department to check in the back room for better ones.
Peeled Tomatoes: This dish needs a tomato sauce that's not thick, so a can of whole, peeled tomatoes works best here. I don't recommend using crushed tomatoes in this recipe.
Onion: Chopped red onion provides the tomato sauce with some sweetness, which is needed with eggplants. Don't skip it!
Ricotta Salata: Sometimes called "Italian feta," ricotta salata is a dry, crumbly ricotta made from sheep's milk. It's the traditional cheese sprinkled in shards on authentic Pasta alla Norma and has a creamy, salty taste.
It. Is. Divine.
Ricotta salata comes in triangles or wedges (see the ingredients photo above.) You'll most likely have to buy it at an Italian import store, so call ahead first to make sure it's available.
If you need a substitute for ricotta salata, you can try shavings of Pecorino Romano, which also is made from sheep's milk and has a salty taste. Pecorino doesn't have a creamy texture, however.
I did try using feta in place of ricotta salata, but the flavor wasn't right in this dish.
Pasta: Use a medium pasta shape such as penne, rigatoni, ziti or casarecce.
How to make Pasta alla Norma
See the card at the end of this post for the full recipe, but here's an overview.
Make the tomato sauce
Make a simple marinara sauce with peeled tomatoes and onions for the best flavor and texture.
- Sauté a red onion in olive oil, then add garlic when the onion is getting soft.
- Add peeled tomatoes, a bay leaf and seasonings.
- Break up the tomatoes and stir to combine.
- Cook the tomato sauce for 20-30 minutes and stir in fresh basil.
Make the eggplants and pasta
- Heat olive oil in a skillet and add cubed eggplant in a single layer. Don't touch the eggplant until it browns.
- When the eggplant has browned on the first side, stir, add garlic and stir it in. Cook until the eggplant and garlic are done.
- Stir the sautéed eggplant into cooked and drained pasta.
- Stir in the tomato sauce.
- The full recipe makes 6-8 servings, but it's easy to make half a batch. Make the full amount of sauce though, and save the extra sauce in the refrigerator or freezer for another use.
- Keep the tomato sauce separate from the eggplant pasta, other than a few ladles stirred in. If you mix in all of the sauce, the eggplants will absorb some of it, and you won't have as much to place on each serving.
What to serve with it
Serve the Pasta alla Norma with shards of ricotta salata on top. This dish goes well with an Italian green salad for a meatless meal.
Frequently asked questions
If you don't add cheese, this eggplant Pasta alla Norma is a vegan dish. If you add ricotta salata, which contains animal enzymes known as rennet, strict vegetarians won't eat it. They might want to substitute regular ricotta, which usually doesn't contain rennet.
You can use roasted eggplant cubes in Pasta alla Norma, but the dish won't be as tasty as the traditional recipe, which calls for cooking eggplants in oil on the stove.
To roast eggplant cubes, place them on one or two sheet pans in a single layer with oil and seasonings. Cook them in the oven at 425 degrees F for 25 minutes, stirring at the halfway point.
More eggplant recipes
- Oven-Fried Eggplant
- Sicilian Eggplant Salad (Caponatina)
- Eggplant Parmesan without Bread Crumbs
- Pan-Fried Eggplant in Sauce
- Romanian Roasted Eggplant Dip
- Chicken Sorrentino
If you try this eggplant pasta recipe, please leave a comment and a rating!
With my Pasta & Sauces collection, even a beginner can cook like an Italian nonna!
Pasta alla Norma (Eggplant Pasta)
- ¼ cup olive oil (preferably regular, not extra-virgin)
- ¾ cup chopped red onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 28 ounces can of whole, peeled tomatoes
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 4 fresh basil leaves
- 2 pounds eggplants (Preferably 2 long & skinny ones, each weighing a pound. See notes.)
- 1 cup olive oil (preferably regular, not extra-virgin)
- 6 cloves garlic
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- red pepper flakes (to taste)
- 1 pound medium pasta (penne, rigatoni or ziti)
- 4 ounces ricotta salata (Or more, to taste. See notes.)
Make the sauce
- Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a large skillet (or large sauce pan) on medium high. Add the chopped onions and cook around four minutes, stirring occasionally. While the onions are cooking, peel and slice two cloves of garlic.
- Add the garlic to the pan and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring a couple of times. When the onions are soft, pour in the peeled tomatoes with their liquid. Use a potato masher to gently smash the tomatoes and break them up. Add the bay leaf, ¼ teaspoon of salt, ¼ teaspoon of pepper flakes and stir to combine.
- When the sauce starts to boil, lower the temperature and loosely cover the pan with a lid, using a wooden spoon resting on the rim of the pan to keep the lid propped open. Set a timer and cook the sauce for another 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Start making the eggplants while the sauce is cooking.
Make the Eggplant Pasta
- Rinse the eggplants and pat them dry. Peel the skin off with a vegetable peeler or use a paring knife to slice off the skin. Use a chef's knife to slice off the root and stem ends. Cut each eggplant in half the long way. Cut each half into long strips that are 1-inch wide. Cut the strips into 1-inch cubes.
- Heat ½ cup of olive oil in a 12-inch, non-stick skillet on medium-high. Add half of the cubed eggplant in a single layer without crowding it. Don't move the eggplant until it browns on the first side. It could take up to 10 minutes.
- While the eggplant is browning, peel six cloves of garlic and slice them.
- When the eggplant is browned on the first side, stir it, add half of the garlic slices (from three cloves) and stir to combine. Continue sautéeing the eggplant until it's done, for another five minutes or so. Turn off the heat and stir in ¼ teaspoon of salt and sprinkle on red pepper flakes. Transfer the cooked eggplant to a bowl.
- Before you start cooking the rest of the eggplant, fill a pasta pot ⅔ full with hot water. Add a couple of teaspoons of salt, cover the pot and heat it on high.
- Sauté the remaining eggplant cubes as before. (Add ½ cup of olive oil to the pan, and add the cubes without stirring. When browned, add the remaining slices of garlic to the pan, stir to combine and cook until done. Add ¼ teaspoon salt and some red pepper flakes.)
- When the pot of water is boiling, add one pound of pasta and stir to prevent sticking. Cook the pasta according to the al dente directions on the package, stirring occasionally.
- When the pasta is done, drain it in a colander in the sink. Transfer the drained pasta back to the pot. Stir in all of the cooked eggplants. Stir in a few ladles of tomato sauce.
- To serve, scoop some eggplant pasta into each dish, top with more sauce and grate some ricotta salata into shards on top using a hand grater or a vegetable peeler. Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to four days. Store leftover ricotta salata wrapped in wax paper in the refrigerator. It will keep until the date on the package, but don't use it if you see any mold.
- Choose long and skinny eggplants, if possible, because they will have fewer seeds than bulkier ones and won't be as bitter.
- Make sure the eggplants are firm, not bruised and have green tops, not brown. If you don't see any that look good at the store, ask a produce worker to check in the back room for better ones.
- Ricotta salata comes in triangles or wedges (see the ingredients photo in the post.) You'll most likely have to buy it at an Italian import store, so call ahead first to make sure it's available. If you need a substitute for ricotta salata, you can try shavings of Pecorino Romano
- If you want to halve this recipe, still make the full amount of sauce and save the extra for another use.
(Recipe Source: Cooking with Mamma C)