Pasta alla Norma is a traditional Sicilian pasta recipe, born in Catania in the early 1900s.
The recipe name is a tribute to “La Norma”, the famous opera of the composer Vincenzo Bellini. It seems that the Sicilian playwright Nino Martoglio would have exclaimed “it’s a Norma!” to describe the wonderful symphony of taste of this pasta recipe, comparing it to the famous work of Vincenzo Bellini.
In fact this dish is a combination of Mediterranean flavors and ingredients that come together perfectly like the elements of an orchestra: fried eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil and ricotta salata cheese, these are the wonderful protagonists of this great recipe.
The most suitable pasta shape for this recipe is the short one: rigatoni, penne or fusilli.
Like all traditional Italian recipes, Pasta alla Norma recipe has some little differences from family to family and from area to area: the way to cut the eggplants, the type of tomato, using or not the onion. In any case, use always simple but of high quality ingredients to make this very famous dish.
September 23, Vincenzo Bellini’s death day, is the National Day of Pasta alla Norma and it’s celebrated in many Italian restaurants around the world.
Now let’s see how to make pasta alla Norma.
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How to Make Pasta alla Norma Recipe
- Prep Time: 20 Min
- Cook Time: 40 Min
- Yields : 4
- 350 g (12 oz) of rigatoni pasta (even penne or fusilli are a good choice)
- 500g (1,1 lb) of eggplant
- 200 g (7 oz) of ricotta salata cheese
- 500 g (1,1 lb) grape tomatoes (even San Marzano is a great choice)
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 7/8 leaves of fresh basil for the sauce + more to decorate
- fine salt
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil for the sauté
- 1/2 liter of extra virgin olive oil for frying
Kitchen Tools and Equipments
Here are some of the kitchen tools we used to make pasta alla Norma recipe.
First of all, get yourself a rather large and capacious saucepan because you have to season the pasta in that saucepan together with the tomato sauce, so you need space to be able to mix well. We opted for a pot this stainless steel 5-qt sauté pan with helper handle and lid.
Cooked tomatoes must be passed through a food mill to remove the skin and the seeds, then get yourself a stainless steel food mill with a set of 3 discs so you can choose the consistency of your sauce.
Finally, very useful for grating salted ricotta, we suggest a grater with large holes.
Make a Tomato Sauce
Step 1) – Take the tomatoes, rinse and dry them then cut into pieces. In a large saucepan pour 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and sauté over medium heat two garlic cloves, peeled and left whole so that if you wish you can remove them. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes.
Step 2) – Now add the tomatoes, stir and cover with a lid. Cook over low heat for about 20 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft and have released their sauce.
Step 3) – Once ready, transfer the tomatoes in a vegetable mill placed on a bowl and pass them in order to obtain a juicy and smooth sauce.
Step 4) – Transfer the tomatoes sauce back to the saucepan and add a pinch of salt to taste then simmer gently for another 10-15 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Meanwhile, bring salted water to a boil to cook the pasta.
Fry the Eggplants
Step 5) – Wash the eggplants, dry them well, then cut into thin slices, about 5 millimeter thick (about 0,20 inch). The thinner the better. Some prefer to cut the eggplants into cubes, but for greater crunchiness and the final look of the dish, we prefer to make very thin slices.
Step 6) – Fry the eggplants in extra virgin olive oil heated to a temperature of 170° C (340 F). Do not exceed the recommended temperature: check with a kitchen thermometer.
If you have to fry a large amount of eggplant for many people, a deep fryer can be very convenient and useful, otherwise for a dose for 4 people the classic frying pan is fine. You will consume less oil! That said, as they are golden brown, drain them with a skimmer.
Step 7) – Transfer them to a tray covered with a kitchen paper towel to absorb the excess oil then add fine salt to taste.
Cook the Pasta, Season and Serve
Step 8) – Add the basil leaves to the tomato sauce. Cook the pasta al dente, drain and pour directly into the saucepan. Stir well to flavor.
Step 9) – Grate plenty of ricotta salata cheese, not too finely (use a grater with large holes). Finally, place the pasta seasoned with the tomato sauce in a dish, add some fried eggplant on top, sprinkle a little grated ricotta salata, add a couple of basil leaves to decorate and serve.
Pasta alla Norma is a dish that should be enjoyed freshly made. If you cook the pasta perfectly al dente, you can keep it for the next day but no longer.
So put the pan with the pasta alla Norma leftovers to reheat on low heat with a little oil, stirring everything together. Or reheat pasta alla Norma in the oven for 15 minutes at 160°C (320 F).
Obviously you will lose the crunchiness of the fried eggplant but the flavor will still be great!
Freezing is not recommended.
What is Ricotta Salata Cheese?
Ricotta salata is not really a cheese, to be accurate, but rather a dairy product. It’s produced from the whey which is a residue from the processing of the cheese, reheated to 85-90°C (185-194 F): hence the Italian name ricotta (re-heated = ri-cotta).
Obtained from cow, buffalo, goat or sheep’s milk whey, it has a short maturation period (from a minimum of 10 to a maximum of 30 days). After processing at high temperatures, the ricotta is pressed and given the characteristic cone shape then it’s dry salted.
Ricotta salata is characteristic of the southern and central regions of Italy. In the past, it was produced to increase the conservation of the classic fresh and creamy ricotta.
The hard consistency of the ricotta salata allows it to be grated, in fact it’s used mainly in this way.
Ricotta salata is used above all to season traditional southern Italian dishes: it goes perfectly with pasta dishes and vegetable dishes to make them much tastier.
The recipe in whichn most of all this dairy product finds the ideal combination is pasta alla Norma, of which it’s a fundamental ingredient.