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Sicilian Pasta alla Norma with Fried Eggplant

Pasta alla Norma is a classic Sicilian dish featuring tomatoes, fried eggplant, fresh basil, and deliciously salty, aged ricotta salata.  Only a few ingredients go into making this pasta dish, but the combination is both satisfying and flavorful!  

A bowl of pasta alla norma, pasta with a tomato and eggplant sauce topped with grated cheese.

The simple tomato sauce is hearty, the eggplant, or melanzana in Italian, is creamy and the ricotta salata adds the perfect amount of cheesy saltiness to bring everything together perfectly. Since there are so few ingredients in this dish, quality, and freshness are important to achieving the optimum flavor. 

Pasta alla Norma is a representation of Sicilian agriculture and cuisine. It is a perfect example of how Sicilians use the ingredients available to them to create a memorable flavor experience.

This pasta recipe has been part of Sicilian cuisine for many years.  It is said to have originated in the city of Catania on the eastern coast of the island. It was named in honor famous opera Norma, which was composed Vincenzo Bellini, a native of Catania.  Apparently, comedian Nino Martoglio, tried the dish and exclaimed, “Chista è ‘na vera Norma!”, meaning “This is truly a Norma”  referring to it as a masterpiece.  

My family is Sicilian on both sides so many of our traditional family recipes come straight from the old country.  Eggplant, tomatoes, and ricotta salata have been common ingredients in our traditional family meals for as long as I can remember.

My mother’s Eggplant Caponata and ricotta salata were always in the pantry and on the table growing up. It is much harder to find aged ricotta salata, but we still make the caponata often. 

I can assure you that tracking down some ricotta salata for this dish is so well worth the effort!

A photo of olive oil, cheese, basil, eggplant, a bowl of tomatoes, pasta and garlic.

Simple Ingredients and Substitutions

Rigatoni Rigati:  We love the hearty texture of rigatoni and the way the ridges hold the sauce.  You can substitute any sturdy pasta shape such as penne rigati, but I recommend selecting a good quality pasta for the best texture and flavor.  

Eggplant:  Traditionally you would use a Sicilian eggplant in this recipe, but they are not always available.  I use a regular globe eggplant most often.  Look for an eggplant that feels heavier than it looks and is firm but not hard. This means it does not have too many seeds.

Salting the eggplant is optional, and I skip this step.  I don’t find it necessary with the eggplants that are available today.

Canned Whole Tomatoes:  I love the chunky texture of using whole canned tomatoes and crushing them by hand.  If you prefer a smoother sauce you can use passata or crushed tomatoes.  

Garlic:  Use fresh garlic cloves if possible and roughly chop it so the pieces aren’t too small.  This will give the garlic plenty of time in the oil to draw the flavor out without burning.

Fresh Basil:  Fresh basil is one of the key components of the dish.  The aroma and flavor of the fresh basil leaves contribute to the overall experience of the dish.  There is no substitute here. 

Aged Ricotta Salata: Ricotta salata is sheep’s milk ricotta that has been pressed to remove moisture, salted, and dried for several months. This salty cheese can be grated or crumbled and brings a distinct flavor to any dish.  If you can’t find it in your grocery store or Italian specialty market, I suggest substituting pecorino romano cheese.  It has a similarly salty bite to the ricotta salata although the texture will be different.    

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: You will need enough to fry the eggplant and a few tablespoons for making the sauce.

Kosher Salt and Black Pepper 

How to Make this Pasta alla Norma Recipe

2photos of slicing and cooking eggplant.

1. Cook the Eggplant: 

  • Cut the eggplant into 1/2″ thick slices.  
  • Heat olive oil in a large skillet and add a single layer of eggplant.  Working in batches, cook it for 3-4 minutes over medium heat until it is golden brown, turn it and cook until it is browned on all sides.  You will need to add more oil as the eggplant absorbs it.  Transfer the cooked eggplant to a paper towel-lined dish.   
A pasta pot of water and a skillet with sauce being stirred on a stove.

2. Make the Sauce

  • Using the same skillet you cooked the eggplant in.  Saute the garlic until it is fragrant, about 30 seconds, and add the crushed tomatoes.  
  • Add two sprigs of fresh basil and season with salt and pepper.  Let the sauce simmer for about 15 minutes or until it starts to thicken.  Continue to simmer the sauce while the pasta cooks.

3. Cook the pasta:

  • Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and add enough salt to the water to be able to taste it without it being too salty.  Add the pasta and cook following the package directions.  
Pasta tossed in sauce and then a photo of pasta in sauce topped with grated cheese.

4. Serve the Pasta

  • When the pasta is al dente, use a strainer or a spider to transfer it to the skillet and reserve a cup of pasta cooking water.  Stir to coat the pasta completely, adding a little pasta water if the sauce is too thick.  
  • Stir in the fried eggplant.
  • Top the pasta with torn basil leaves and grated ricotta salata.  Pass more cheese for grating at the table.
A bowl of pasta alla Norma in front of a glass of red wine a tomato and a decorative black and white canister.

Variations

  • Depending on the region, you will see the eggplant cut differently for this classic Sicilian recipe.  Some areas like to use eggplant cubes while others like to use round eggplant slices.  So feel free to cut your eggplant any way you like.
  • You can also roast the eggplant if you don’t want the mess of frying it.  But I do think you are giving up some of the authentic flavor from frying it.
  • Adding red pepper flakes to the sauce will spice it up a bit. 

More Traditional Italian Pasta Recipes

We love pasta in our house and my American husband is a super fan!  So we are always up for trying new recipes, but we never let go of our old family favorites.  

I think Pasta with Broccoli is one of John’s all-time favorites.  I can’t blame him, it is cheesy, creamy and even broccoli haters love it.  

You can’t beat an Easy Tomato Basil Pasta or Carbonara on a busy weeknight.  But if you have the time why not indulge in a delicious Classic Bolognese Sauce or Short Rib Ragu?  Both are rich, hearty, and comforting! Perfect for a Sunday family dinner.

I love to get your feedback so if you tried this Pasta alla Norma recipe or any other recipes on this website, please leave me a comment below.  I hope you enjoy our recipes and look forward to hearing from you!

You can also follow me on FacebookInstagram and Pinterest for more recipes your family will love!

Pasta alla Norma Recipe

A bowl of pasta alla norma, pasta with a tomato and eggplant sauce topped with grated cheese.

Classic Pasta alla Norma with Fried Eggplant

This Pasta alla Norma recipe is a testament to the simplicity of Sicilian cooking. A pasta dish made with a rich tomato sauce and creamy fried eggplant is topped with fresh basil and ricotta salata! It doesn't get any better then this!
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Course First course, Main Course, primo, dinner, lunch
Cuisine Italian, Sicilian
Servings 6 servings
Calories 520 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1 lb Rigatoni Pasta
  • ½ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Eggplant, medium to large sliced into strips
  • 28 oz Canned Whole Tomatoes
  • 2 sprigs Fresh Basil plus more for serving
  • 3 cloves Garlic chopped
  • ½ cup Ricotta Salata grated, plus more for passing at the table
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • ¼ tsp Black Pepper

Instructions
 

  • Cut the eggplant into 1/2" thick slices.  
    Heat olive oil in a large skillet and add a single layer of eggplant.  Working in batches, cook it for 3-4 minutes over medium heat until it is golden brown, turn it and cook until it is browned on all sides.  
    You will need to add more oil as the eggplant absorbs it.  Transfer the cooked eggplant to a paper towel-lined dish.
  • Using the same skillet you cooked the eggplant in.  Sauté the garlic until it is fragrant, about 30 seconds, and add the crushed tomatoes.  
    Add two sprigs of fresh basil and season with salt and pepper.  
    Let the sauce simmer for about 15 minutes or until it starts to thicken.  Continue to simmer the sauce while the pasta cooks.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and add enough salt to the water so that it is salty like a broth but not too salty.  Add the pasta and cook following the package directions. 
  • When the pasta is al dente, use a strainer or a spider to transfer it to the skillet and reserve a cup of pasta cooking water.  Stir to coat the pasta completely, adding a little pasta water if the sauce is too thick.  
    Stir in the fried eggplant.
    Top the pasta with torn basil leaves and grated ricotta salata.  Pass more cheese for grating at the table.

Nutrition

Serving: 1servingsCalories: 520kcalCarbohydrates: 67gProtein: 14gFat: 22gSaturated Fat: 4gPolyunsaturated Fat: 3gMonounsaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 11mgSodium: 601mgPotassium: 623mgFiber: 6gSugar: 8gVitamin A: 300IUVitamin C: 15mgCalcium: 111mgIron: 3mg
Keyword Pasta, tomato sauce, eggplant, cheese, sheeps milk cheese
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