Pasta alla Norma is truly an iconic pasta dish from Sicily. A simple but delicious recipe that is made with eggplants, tomatoes, ricotta salata, and fresh basil. The flavors all come together to make the most delicious pasta recipe. It's an easy pasta recipe with no meat. Ready in than 30 minutes!
This classic Sicilian dish is vegetarian. Leave out the cheese to have a very satisfying vegan pasta recipe.
Travel around Sicily, and you will encounter pasta alla Norma on most menus. As with many traditional Italian recipes, there will be variations. You could find variations from town to town within the region.
You’ll even find variations from family to family, and even within a family. And there will be arguments on whose recipe is authentic, and most importantly, whose is the best. Typical Sicilian family food drama.
Things that could vary in the recipe could be the type of pasta, cheese, and even to how the eggplants are sliced. But there will be something that the recipe always will have in common no matter where you find it.
Pasta alla Norma should always consist of five ingredients. Pasta (should be short and tubular), eggplants, tomatoes, ricotta salata, and fresh basil.
It is basically a Sicilian summer on a plate. But you can make this any time of the year. This pasta summer I had a chance to go back to Sicily and visit my family and eat this again, in Sicily!
I walked every morning to the cemetery to visit my dad who we buried in his hometown almost 10 years ago. I put together #projectsicilia to remember my dad with Sicilian recipes. Hope you enjoy the project!
Why is Pasta alla Norma popular?
- simple to make
- economical (very budget friendly!)
- naturally vegetarian (could be made vegan without the cheese!)
- easy to make gluten-free
Before we jump into the recipe, let's go over this name.
Why is it called Pasta Alla Norma?
The story goes that pasta alla Norma originates in Catania, which is on the Eastern coast of Sicily and it's name comes from Vincenzo Bellini is a world famous opera composer from Catania and he wrote the opera Norma.
In early 19th century, an Italian writer named Nino Martogli was eating this pasta recipe and exclaimed, "Chista è ‘na vera Norma! (This is a real Norma!)"
Since it was compared to Bellini's masterpiece, the story goes that the name stuck and that's how this simple eggplant pasta dish was given it's iconic name: alla Norma! There are other versions to the story, but I'll stick with this one, because I really like it!
All you need are simple ingredients to make a perfect pasta alla Norma. You may even have some of the ingredients in your pantry. Most important thing to remember is to use the highest quality ingredients.
Like many Italian dishes, it’s such a simple dish, but with the best quality ingredients, the flavors will really stand out!
What ingredients are in pasta alla Norma: (full printable recipe is below)
- Pasta – short pasta like penne, paccheri, rigatoni, etc
- Extra virgin olive oil (or whatever oil you have on hand)
- Ricotta salata cheese
- Fresh basil
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Let’s just go over a little bit the ingredients
If you are going to make this the traditional way, the eggplants are sliced in rounds. But there are recipes where the eggplants are cut in small chunks (like I did) and even recipes where the eggplants are sliced in sticks.
I used American globe eggplants. I should have shopped around for Italian eggplants, as they are a bit sweeter.
I have come across recipes where Japanese eggplants were used. Totally fine to use them, if that’s what you have on hand.
I was taught to make the pasta with a combination of fresh tomatoes and canned tomatoes.
In Sicily, you would be able to find Picadilly tomatoes. I can personally attest to how amazing Picadilly tomatoes grown in Sicily are. My family actually used to grow them for mass production in Sicily.
You could use San Marzano DOP tomatoes or even a really good brand of passata. If you happen to come across good quality fresh tomatoes, add some of them into the sauce.
Pasta alla Norma recipe is typically made with a short pasta. That is the authentic way to make the dish. You could use penne, rigatoni, casarecce. I made it with paccheri.
Maybe you’ve heard you shouldn’t fry in extra-virgin olive oil. My Sicilian people do fry in extra-virgin olive oil. I actually use a Sicilian extra-virgin olive oil.
Go ahead and fry the eggplants in whatever oil you like to fry with. A light vegetable oil or sesame oil is fine.
IF you can get your hands on some ricotta salata, it is key for this recipe. It is a typical cheese in Catania (where the recipe originated). It’s actually used in many recipes all over Sicily.
It’s salty and it is a firm cheese, which makes it easy to grate. You could use Pecorino Romano (or Sardo)or even caciocavallo.
In case you're vegan or dairy-free, just leave out the cheese. Or, sprinkle on some vegan grated cheese.
Fresh basil, and fresh basil only! No way could dried basil be used in this recipe. If you do not have basil on hand, just leave it out, no problem (but don't use dried basil).
Sea salt and a dash of freshly ground pepper is all you need. Season it to your taste.
How to make authentic Pasta alla Norma
This is an easy recipe to make any weeknight or for a nice Sunday lunch. With just a few steps, this flavorful pasta will be ready (all you need is some bread and a nice glass of wine!).
You’ll find the full recipe below, but here is what you'll need to do:
1) Once you gather your ingredients, start of the easy sauce. It comes together in just minutes!
2) Make your tomato sauce.
In a large sauce pan, add the oil and saute' the onions until they're translucent.
Add in the tomatoes (I used fresh and canned). Season with salt and let it simmer while you fry up the eggplant.
3) Prepare and fry up the eggplant.
While the sauce is simmering, fry up the eggplant. I have seen recipes where they roast the eggplant. If that's how you prefer to do it, go ahead and roast the eggplants (they just have to roast them until they're nice and golden.)
Cut off the end of the eggplant and peel off alternating strips of the skin. Cut into chunks. Sprinkle a little salt on the eggplant chunks. Heat up the oil in your large pan and fry up the eggplant. Be sure not to crowd it!
Drain the eggplant on paper towel lined dish. Gently stir the eggplant into the sauce and let it simmer.
3) Cook the pasta.
Bring the pot of salted water to boil. It's super important to reserve some of the pasta water. It's going to be added into the sauce when you combine the pasta with the sauce. The starch form the pasta water helps to combine the pasta and the sauce.
I typically scoop out some of the water and put in a measuring cup before I drain the pasta (you may forget, and that's ok).
4) Combine it all together.
Add the drained eggplant pieces to the sauce and stir to combine. Add in the drained pasta to the sauce and stir. Grate on some of the ricotta salata and some fresh basil. Ready to enjoy...buon appetito!
How much salt do I use to cook dry pasta?
Salting the pasta water is essential. Use 3-4 quarts of water for a pound of pasta, and use 1- 1-½ tablespoons of salt. The recipe will end up lacking flavor if you do not salt the pasta water.
How to store pasta alla Norma?
Once it's cooled down, any leftovers could be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days. I do not recommend freezing this recipe.
One last thing…I promise.
Just a quick request:if you enjoyed this pasta with zucchini and potatoes recipe as much as we did, would you kindly leave me a 5-star rating and a short (or long!)comment–the ratings are what helps get my recipes and hard work discovered, so I can keep leaving you more delish recipes!
Did you make this? Please RATE THE RECIPE below:)
Your comments mean the world to me….and I really SMILE when I read them. Thank you so much! XX
Some other Sicilian recipes to enjoy:
Pasta alla Norma
- ½ to 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion finely diced sweet, red, or 1 large shallot
- 1 lb fresh tomatoes I used plum tomatoes
- 1 can 28-ounces whole peeled San Marzano DOC tomatoes
- 1-2 teaspoons sea salt plus salt for the pasta water (1-1 ½ tablespoons for the pasta water)
- ¼-½ cup chopped fresh basil plus a handful more basil leaves for garnish
- 2 medium eggplants about 2 ¼ pounds total
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 lb paccheri or any short pasta like penne, casarecce, rigatoni
- ¾ cup finely grated ricotta salata
- Cook the sauce:
- Heat oil: In a large saute' pan or medium saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high until it's shimmering.
- Add onion: Add the onion and cook until translucent (no more than a minute, or it will brown).
- Tomatoes: Add in the fresh tomatoes. Cook together with the onions for a few minutes. Next, add in the canned tomatoes and the juice(I break up the tomatoes with my hands,, removing the hard end before adding to the sauce).
- Bring to a boil: Bring the sauce to a boil and use a wooden spoon to stir, breaking up the tomatoes while they’re cooking.
- Lower heat: Once the sauce comes to a boil for a few minutes, lower heat to a simmer.
- Season sauce: Season with the salt, and let the sauce cook and thicken.
- Check the consistency of sauce: If it’s getting too thick, add a little bit of water (start with a ¼ cup).
- Add fresh basil: Finally, stir in the fresh basil and stir to combine (and parsley, if you’re using).
- Simmer sauce: Let sauce simmer for 20 minutes total. Check the salt and add more if needed.
- Fry the eggplants:
- Prep + fry eggplants: While the sauce is simmering, prep and fry up the eggplants. Cut the end off the eggplants. With a vegetable peeler, shave off long alternating strips of eggplant peel. Cut the eggplant into chunks.
- Season + heat oil: Sprinkle a little salt on the eggplant. Heat up oil 350°F in a large frying pan.
- Fry eggplant: Fry the eggplant until they turn golden brown, turning them every minute or so. Cook the eggplant in batches, so you don’t crowd them. Using a slotted spoon, remove cooked eggplants and place them on a paper towel lined sheet.
- Combine with sauce: Add the eggplant to the sauce and gently stir together. Let it simmer on medium low heat while you cook up the pasta.
- Make the pasta:
- Boil water: While the sauce is simmering and eggplant is frying, bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
- Cook up pasta: Cook your pasta until it is 1 minute less than al dente.
- Drain + reserve some pasta water: Drain the pasta when it is just before reaching al dente. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water.
- Combine pasta + sauce: Raise the heat of the sauce a little. Add the pasta to the saute’ pan with the sauce. Gently stir to combine and add a little bit of pasta water (a tablespoon at a time) if the sauce is too thick to loosen it up a little.
- Prep the plates: Plate up the pasta and grate on some ricotta salata. Add on some chopped fresh basil and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil before serving. ENJOY!
Please keep in mind that the nutritional information presented below is an approximation and may vary depending on the exact ingredients used.
- Grill: you could grill the eggplant in large rounds (if you prefer not frying). Just fold in the eggplants at the last minute to the sauce.
- Roast: You could also toss the eggplant chunks in olive oil, sprinkle on some salt, and roast at 400° F until soft and golden brown. Stir into the tomato sauce same as following recipe above for frying eggplant.
- Fry: Important tip if you’re frying (like we did in the recipe), be sure to give the eggplants space in the pan with the oil. Fry it up in batches. The color should be a nice golden brown on both sides.
- Cheese: Omit the cheese and you could sprinkle on some vegan parmesan or whatever grated vegan cheese you like.