Pasta alla Norma is a classic Sicilian dish that combines eggplant and al dente pasta tossed in a tomato sauce and finished with ricotta salata and fresh basil. Pasta alla Norma is perfect for summer but we enjoy it all year long!
Editor’s Note: Originally published on April 11, 2019. Updated with expanded info.
An iconic pasta that hails from Catania, Sicily, Pasta alla Norma is proof that simple, fresh ingredients make an incredible dish.
This pasta combines gently fried cubes of eggplant with al dente pasta in a tomato sauce that’s finished with fresh basil and plenty of ricotta salata.
We really love to make rigatoni alla Norma in the summer when eggplants are in season, and it’s even better if you can grow the eggplants yourself!
How to make it
Each number corresponds to the numbered written steps below.
- Hand crush 1 28-ounce can of whole plum tomatoes and set aside. You can also pulse a few times in a blender, or use crushed tomatoes.
- Slice 5 cloves of garlic and set aside. Chop 1 1/2 pounds of eggplant (about 2 medium eggplant) into cubes and heat a large pan over medium heat with 3/4 cup of olive oil.
- When the oil is hot, pat the eggplant cubes very dry and add them to the pan in batches taking care to not overcrowd. Fry the eggplant until well browned and very soft when pierced with a fork, about 10-12 minutes, then remove and allow to drain on a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt. Note: Depending on the size of the eggplant cubes and the heat of your pan, it could take a few minutes more or less to fry the eggplant cubes.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. With paper towels wipe the pan of excess olive oil you used to cook the eggplant with then and add a 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil, the sliced garlic, and 2-4 small anchovy fillets. Note: you can also use 1-2 teaspoons of anchovy paste, or omit the anchovies entirely. Saute for about 2 minutes or until golden while mashing the anchovies into the oil.
- Add a 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes and cook for an additional 30 seconds. Add 3 ounces of tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes stirring frequently. If the paste starts to burn, add a splash of water and turn down the heat as needed.
- Add the crushed tomatoes and season with salt to taste. Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer. While it cooks, add 1 pound of rigatoni or other tubular pasta to the salted boiling water and cook to 1 minute less than al dente.
- Add the pasta to the sauce and toss to coat. Note: Jim is using paccheri pasta but rigatoni is just as good and far easier to find.
- Add the eggplant cubes and basil. Fold the eggplant into the sauce and gently mix to maintain some of its shape. Once the pasta reaches al dente, remove the pan from the heat. Taste test and adjust salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper as needed. Serve pasta alla Norma in bowls and evenly distribute 1 cup worth of shredded ricotta salata on top. Serve immediately and enjoy! Note: You can use more or less ricotta salata to taste.
- Eggplant. When buying eggplant for your alla Norma, look for shiny eggplants that are very firm. The smaller the eggplant, the fewer seeds you’ll have so select smaller ones if possible. If you’re wondering if there are male and female eggplants or interested in other food myths listen to episode 10 of the sip and feast podcast.
- Frying. Be sure to get a good sear on the eggplant. The eggplant at first will soak up the oil, then after 7 minutes or so it will release it and begin to brown. You’ll know it’s done when well browned and soft. When piercing the eggplant it should be soft and give zero resistance. If it is spongy and resists the fork, continue to fry it. While frying is the traditional method, you can also roast the eggplant if you wish.
- Ricotta salata. This cheese can be found in most Italian specialty or grocery stores. If you cannot find it, Pecorino Romano would make a good substitute. Ricotta salata is a firm, solid cheese and very different from the ricotta found in a container.
- Herbs. Basil is the herb of choice here but adding a touch of fresh mint would be a great addition as well; we use this combo in our roasted eggplant with tomato sauce.
More eggplant recipes
If you love eggplant, here are a few of our favorites!
- Eggplant Caponata – with raisins and pine nuts.
- Stuffed eggplant – with tomatoes, scamorza cheese, pine nuts, raisins, and mint.
- Eggplant parmigiana – Sicilian style without breadcrumbs.
- Pasta Siciliana – with roasted eggplant and mozzarella.
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Pasta Alla Norma
- 1 pound rigatoni
- 1 1/2 pounds eggplant cubed
- 3/4 cup olive oil for frying eggplant
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 5 cloves garlic sliced
- 2 small anchovy fillets or 1-2 teaspoons anchovy paste
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 3 ounces tomato paste
- 1 28 ounce can whole plum tomatoes hand crushed or blender pulsed
- 1/4 packed cup basil
- 1 cup Ricotta Salata shredded
- salt and pepper to taste
- Heat the olive in a large pan over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, pat the eggplant cubes very dry then add to the pan. Working in batches, fry the eggplant until well browned and soft (about 10-12 minutes per batch) then remove to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
- Wipe the pan used to cook the eggplant down with paper towels then add the extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and anchovies. Saute for 2 minutes or until golden, while mashing the anchovies into the oil.
- Add the red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds. Next, add the tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes stirring frequently. If the paste starts to burn, add a splash of water and turn down the heat a bit if required.
- Add the crushed tomatoes to the pan and season with a bit of salt. Bring the sauce to a simmer.
- Once the pasta water comes to a boil, cook the pasta until 1 minute less than al dente.
- Add the pasta to the sauce and toss to coat. Add the eggplant cubes and the basil. Mix well and once the pasta reaches al dente remove the pan from the heat.
- Taste test and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Serve in bowls, evenly distributing the ricotta salata cheese onto each plate. Enjoy!
- Makes 4 large or 6 regular size servings.
- Anchovies can be omitted.
- Substitute Pecorino Romano if unable to find Ricotta Salata.
- If the pasta is a little dry add some of the reserved pasta water to loosen it up before serving.
- Leftovers can be saved for up to 3 days in the fridge and can be reheated in the microwave.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
This recipe was originally published on April 11, 2019. It was completely updated on July 12, 2023