Pasta Alla Norma is one of the most comforting Sicilian dishes. There’s really nothing better than making this for your family, sipping a glass of wine and watching them happily devour it!
What you’ll need is some pretty basic ingredients and one harder to find cheese known as ricotta salata. We used ricotta salata in our Stuffed Tomatoes Recipe from a while back. It’s a great cheese, but don’t let ricotta salata be a detterent to making this recipe, as we give you a couple other substitutes down below.
What Is Pasta Alla Norma
Pasta alla norma is a Sicilian dish made with plum tomatoes, a short pasta such as rigatoni or penne, basil, ricotta salata and fried eggplant pieces. The eggplant pieces are often cut into half moons.
Our rigatoni all norma is made almost like the original version, but with oven roasted eggplant pieces. The eggplant (try to get Italian eggplants if you can. They are smaller than the larger domestic American eggplants) is cut into half moons and tossed with a lot of olive oil. They are spread out without touching and roasted on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. The eggplant is so good this way – dare I say better than frying it in oil.
Well let’s just say it’s easier and a great time saver as well, because as the eggplant is roasting the sauce can be made at the same time!
Rigatoni Alla Norma Ingredients
- 1 pound of Italian eggplant – If you can find them buy Italian eggplants, if not the more common American eggplant is fine.
- 1 block of ricotta salata – If you can not find this cheese use pecorino or feta in that order.
- 1 pound rigatoni – Any small pasta is fine. Options include penne, ziti, orecchiette, pennoni, cassarecce, etc.
- 1 28 ounce can of whole san marzano plum tomatoes – Use whole preferably san marzano plum tomatoes.
- 1 6 ounce can of tomato paste
- bunch of fresh basil – Fresh basil makes all the difference.
- 5 cloves garlic
- 3/4 cup olive oil – For tossing the eggplant with before roasting and for sauteing the garlic.
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil – For finishing the pasta with a drizzle at the end.
- 1/2 tsp oregano
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
- salt/pepper to taste
How To Make Roasted Eggplant Pasta Alla Norma
- Ingredients shown: garlic, whole san marzano plum tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 large egpplant, ricotta salata, and basil. Preheat oven to 425f and place rack in middle.
- Start by dicing the eggplant into fairly large half moon shape pieces about 3/4″ thick. Place in a bowl and coat well with a 1/2 cup plus of olive oil and a tsp of kosher salt and 1/2 tsp of pepper. If needed use more oil to coat all pieces.
- Place the well coated eggplant on a parchment paper lined baking sheet or wire rack. Try to spread them out and avoid crowding the pieces. Roast in oven for 25-30 minutes.
- The eggplant should look like shown after about 25-30 minutes of roasting. If they are not brown and cooked enough return them to the oven for 5 more minutes. Tasting one is the best way to assure that they are done.
- While eggplant is roasting start boiling the pasta and making the sauce. Cook pasta to al dente in salted (2 Tbsp kosher salt per gallon) water. Chop and saute the garlic in a large pan on medium heat with about 2-3 Tbsp of olive oil.
- Once the garlic is nice and golden add the tomato paste and spread it out with a wooden spoon.
- Let the paste cook for a couple minutes in the oil, then add the hand crushed or blender pulsed san marzano plum tomatoes.
- Add the 1/2 tsp oregano and crushed red pepper flakes as well. Stir the sauce together and bring it to a light simmer for about 10-15 minutes.
- After the sauce cooks remove about 1/2 of it from the pan and set aside temporarily. Add a touch (1-2 ounces) of pasta water to the pan and add the pasta.
- Mix well and let the sauce really coat the pasta well. While not crucial cooking the pasta in the sauce will really let the sauce stick to the pasta instead of sliding right off.
- Turn off the heat and add the eggplant and toss again. Also add a bunch of torn basil leaves (1/4 cup or so) and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. If the pasta is a little dry add some more of the reserved sauce and if necessary a touch more pasta water.
- Finally add a large amount of grated ricotta salata and bring the pasta alla norma to the table.
So That’s How To Make A Great Eggplant Pasta
No salt was added except for the salt from the ricotta salata and the seasoned roasted eggplant. Adjust at the end if necessary, but you might not need to.
For the pasta we used mezzi rigatoni. Any short tubular pasta works well for alla norma. Penne, rigatoni and ziti are all good choices.
The sauce can be saved for a few days in the fridge. You could make the whole sauce ahead of time and save for another night where you will only have to reheat and boil your pasta.
- ricotta salata – Ricotta salata is a salty cheese made from sheeps milk and is good for grating or crumbling. It crumbles kind of like feta but is a little firmer so it can be grated. If you can’t find this cheese use pecorino as the substitute. In a pinch feta could be used. Pat it dry before tying to grate it or just crumble it on.
- fresh mozzarella – This can be used at the end instead of the ricotta salata. By doing this you will have changed alla norma into pasta alla Siciliana which is a dish found in the northeast of America. It’s another great one, albeit with a different flavor and consistency than alla norma.
- eggplant – Taking out the eggplant wouldn’t quite make the dish alla norma anymore. That being said, adding some roasted zucchini to the mix is a worthy addition. Give it a try along with the eggplant and if you can’t find good eggplants using only zucchini would be a nice dish in it’s own right.
- pancetta – A little bit of pancetta (2-4 ounces) can be used at the start of the recipe. Pan fry it up for about 5 minutes on medium heat before adding the garlic.
- anchovy – Fry up a little bit of anchovy paste or a couple of chopped tin anchovies for a couple of minutes before sauteing the garlic. Anchovy is quintessential Sicilian and finds its way into so many recipes. If you like it definitely use it for an increase of umami flavor!
Affordable red Wines such as Nero d’Avola, Chianti or Valpolicella are all great with the hearty alla norma. A good Pinot Noir would be excellent as well.
On a scale of 1-5 with being easy this pasta alla norma is a 2.5. I know I repeat this often, but just don’t overcook your pasta, save some pasta water, and make sure to sauce the pasta and cook it for a minute in the pan.
Also, watch the eggplant pieces as they roast to avoid burning. The pieces on the edge of the pan tend to brown quicker. Discard any overly burnt pieces. Not really a big deal, but something to keep in mind.
Other Great Pastas
- Pasta e Ceci
- Spaghetti Carbonara
- Spaghetti Amatriciana
- Linguine Alle Vongole
- Pasta Al Forno
- Shrimp Fra Diavolo
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- 1 pound eggplant
- 1 block ricotta salata
- 1 pound rigatoni
- 1 28 ounce can whole plum tomatoes
- 1 6 ounce can tomato paste
- 1 bunch fresh basil
- 5 cloves garlic
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup extra virgn olive oil
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- Preheat oven to 425f. Dice eggplant into 3/4" thick cubes. Toss eggplant well with 1/2 cup or more of olive oil, 1 tsp kosher salt and 1/2 tsp black pepper. Spread eggplant out onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet or wire rack. Roast the eggplant in middle of oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden and fully cooked through.
- While eggplant is roasting start boiling pasta to al dente in salted (2 Tbsp kosher salt per gallon) water. Rough chop garlic and saute in 2 -3 Tbsp olive oil in large pan over medium heat until golden.
- Add 1 can of tomato paste to pan and cook for 2-3 minutes longer. Next, add the hand crushed plum tomatoes along with the 1/2 tsp oregano and 1/2 tsp of crushed red pepper flakes. Stir it all together and bring sauce to a light simmer for 10-15 minutes of cooking.
- After sauce is cooked, remove about half of it from the pan and set aside. Add a couple tablespoons of pasta water if the sauce is too thick and add the pasta to the sauce. Toss well and let the sauce cook with the pasta for 1-2 minutes. Add the eggplant pieces and give it another stir to coat.
- Remove from heat and if the alla norma is a little dry add back some of the reserved sauce. Tear the basil leaves and add to the pasta. Finally grate (1/2 cup) a hefty amount of the ricotta salata on the pasta and drizzle extra virgin olive oil on top. Bring to the table and serve with more ricotta salata, extra virgin olive oil and the side of sauce for anyone who would like more. Enjoy!
- Makes 4 large or 6 regular size servings.
- No extra salt was added to the sauce because of the inherent saltiness of ricotta salata. Adjust accordingly.
- Substitute pecorino if unable to find ricotta salata.
- If the pasta is a little dry add some of reserved sauce and/or pasta water to loosen it up before serving.
- Though not absolutely necessary cooking the pasta in the sauce really helps it absorb the sauce.