Have you ever tried Pasta alla Norma? If not, you’re in for a treat!
This traditional Sicilian dish is bursting with flavor and has become a staple in Italian cuisine. Named after the famous opera “Norma” by Vincenzo Bellini, this dish is a tribute to the beautiful island of Sicily, where eggplant and tomatoes are plentiful.
Pasta alla Norma is a simple dish that combines the rich flavors of eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, and basil, all tossed together with perfectly cooked pasta. The ingredients come together in a harmony of flavors that is sure to satisfy your cravings.
The dish has since become a beloved classic in Sicilian cuisine and beyond. It’s a perfect dish for any occasion, whether you’re looking for a comforting meal on a chilly evening or a light lunch on a sunny day.
What sets pasta alla norma apart from other pasta dishes is its simplicity. The ingredients are fresh, flavorful, and easy to find. The eggplant is fried until tender and caramelized, while the tomatoes are cooked down to create a rich and tangy sauce. The garlic and basil add a burst of flavor that ties everything together.
In this article, we’ll dive into the details of how to make authentic Pasta alla Norma, step-by-step. We’ll explore the history of this beloved dish and its cultural significance in Sicilian cuisine. So grab a glass of wine, put on some Italian music, and get ready to experience the flavors of Sicily with 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) rigatoni pasta (penne or fusilli are also good choices)
- 500g (1,1 pound) of eggplant (about two eggplants)
- 200 g (7 oz) of ricotta salata cheese
- 500 g (1,1 lb) of grape tomatoes or San Marzano
- 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.
The first thing to do is to get a fairly large and wide saucepan. You will be seasoning the pasta in the saucepan along with the tomato sauce, so you need room to mix well. We opted for 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.
First Make the Tomato Sauce
Step 1) – Take the tomatoes, rinse and dry them then cut into pieces.
In a large saucepan add 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Then, over medium heat, sauté 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 food 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.
How to Store Pasta alla Norma
Pasta alla Norma is a dish that should be enjoyed freshly made. If you cook the pasta perfectly al dente, you can keep it in the refrigerator 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, but rather a dairy product. It’s made from the whey left over from the processing of cheese, which is heated 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 conical shape, then it’s dry salted.
Ricotta Salata is characteristic of the southern and central regions of Italy. In the past, it was made to preserve the classic fresh and creamy ricotta.
The hard consistency of Ricotta Salata allows it to be grated, and that’s the way it’s mainly used.
Ricotta Salata is mainly used to season traditional dishes from southern Italy: it is the perfect accompaniment to pasta and vegetable dishes, making them much more tasty.
The recipe in which this dairy product finds its ideal combination is Pasta alla Norma, in which it’s a key ingredient.
Pasta alla Norma: Some Variations
Pasta alla norma is a typical Sicilian dish made with ingredients such as short pasta (usually rigatoni), peeled tomatoes, fried eggplant, ricotta salata, and fresh basil.
However, there are some regional or adapted variations of the recipe that may be popular in different parts of Italy. Here are some of these variations:
Pasta alla Norma with Cherry Tomatoes
Add fresh, halved cherry tomatoes to the tomato sauce for a sweeter flavor.
Pasta alla Norma with Zucchini
Replace the eggplant with diced zucchini sautéed in a pan with a little oil.
Pasta alla Norma with Mozzarella
Add fresh diced mozzarella cheese at the end of cooking for a creamier, more delicate flavor.
Pasta alla Norma with Fresh Ricotta
It is often difficult to find salted ricotta. We recommend replacing it with fresh ricotta. The dish will certainly be creamier.
Why is it Called Pasta alla Norma?
Pasta alla Norma is a traditional Sicilian recipe that was created in Catania in the early 1900s.
The name of the recipe is a tribute to “La Norma”, the famous opera by composer Vincenzo Bellini. The Sicilian playwright Nino Martoglio is said to have exclaimed, “This is a Norma!” to describe the wonderful symphony of flavors of this pasta recipe, comparing it to Vincenzo Bellini’s famous opera.
In fact, this dish is a combination of Mediterranean flavors and ingredients that blend perfectly like the elements of an orchestra: fried eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil and ricotta salata are the wonderful protagonists of this great recipe!
September 23, the day of Vincenzo Bellini’s death, is National Pasta alla Norma Day and is celebrated in many Italian restaurants around the world.