I’ve never seen the opera, Norma. But when I heard that Pasta alla Norma, a traditional Sicilian pasta dish (which I LOVE) – is named in honour of the famous opera, I imagined the plot to go something like this:
Lady Eggplant falls in love with the Duke of Ricotta. The two young lovers are from feuding families that hate each other and forbid them from seeing each other. The star-crossed lovers run away to find Bishop Basil of Roma to marry them, and they live happily ever after.
I was wrong.
Norma tells the story of the Druid High-Priestess and her love triangle with the Roman Pollione and a younger woman. And I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have a happily ever after or characters with food names.
While the opera and the dish might not have much in common, both are classics in their own right.
Here is what you need to know about this recipe for Pasta Alla Norma:
- This meal comes together in about an hour and uses ingredients you’re likely to have in the pantry. It is a very satisfying, hearty dish despite not having any meat. Seriously, the whole family will love it.
- Ricotta salata is a crumbly Italian cheese made by salting, aging and pressing fresh ricotta. You can find it at most grocery stores, but if you can’t, pecorino Romano works is a good alternative.
- Take your time cooking the eggplant. Work in batches, so you don’t overcrowd the pan and steam the eggplant rather than brown it.
- Check for seasoning as you go. Not all canned tomatoes are not created equal. They vary depending on the brand and type of tomato. So I encourage you to taste the sauce often and season as you go. I’m a big fan of San Marzano tomatoes because of their natural sweetness. If I don’t have any San Marzano at home, I add a teaspoon of sugar to the sauce. This step is optional, but I recommend it.
If you decide to try this recipe, let me know what you think in the comments below or tag @chrissymeetsworld. Happy cooking!
Pasta alla Norma
- 1½ lb eggplants (~2 medium eggplants), sliced ½-inch thick
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 28-oz can of whole tomatoes
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1½ lb spaghetti, tagliatelle, bucatini or other long pasta
- 1/2 cup ricotta salata, grated
- 1/2 cup basil leaves, chopped
- Heat a quarter of the olive oil over medium-high in a large saute pan. In batches, add a layer of eggplant to the pan and sprinkle with salt. Cook ~4 minutes on each side, or until the eggplant is brown and soft. Once it's done cooking, transfer the eggplant to a plate or wire rack, adding more oil to the pan as needed. Roughly chop the sauteed eggplant and set it aside. Reserve the pan.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once the eggplant cooks, there should be about 1 tbsp of oil left in the pan. If not, add or drain the oil. Over medium heat, add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute for about a minute until the garlic is golden brown. Add the tomatoes, sugar and oregano and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 8-10 minutes until the sauce is thick but still pourable. Add the chopped eggplant, stirring to combine. Let the sauce simmer over low heat while you cook the pasta.
- Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the sauce, tossing to combine. If the sauce is too thick, add some reserved cooking water until you get the consistency you like. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide the pasta between the bowls and top with the grated cheese and fresh basil. Enjoy!