Pasta alla Norma is a classic, and dare I say iconic, Sicilian dish that combines meaty roasted eggplant, sweet plum tomatoes, fragrant basil, and salty Ricotta Salata. One bite and this is sure to become a favorite. And the best part. This is a super simple dish, perfect for any night of the week.
Editor’s Note: Originally Published April 11, 2019. Updated with more relevant info.
Rigatoni Alla Norma with roasted eggplant truly is a simple dish, with basic ingredients. The only not-so-basic ingredient used here is Ricotta Salata, which can be tricky to find depending on where you live. But not to worry - we will outline alternatives so read on!
What is Pasta alla Norma?
Pasta Alla Norma, or Rigatoni Alla Norma, is an Italian pasta dish that hails from Catania, Sicily, a city that sits at the foot of Mt. Etna. Growing up in an Italian-American family, I ate plenty of eggplant and pasta dishes, but it wasn’t until my wife came back from a trip to Sicily that I learned what Alla Norma really was.
She tried her best to recount her experience to me - describing how after a long day in Castlemola, still dusty with volcanic ash thanks to a recent Etna eruption, she wandered hungrily into Trattoria da Nino in Taormina. Famished, she ordered a few courses to share with a friend, and one of those dishes, perhaps the most memorable, was Alla Norma.
Her eyes lit up as she described the distinct flavor of each of the components: half-moon sliced eggplant, basil, tomatoes, Ricotta Salata - as if each ingredient were a meal unto themselves. I knew then that I needed to do everything in my power to duplicate this experience for her now that she was back home in New York.
Traditionally the eggplant is fried in olive oil, but I've found roasting it, especially when making a large batch, is far easier and just as good.
It is sliced in half-moons, tossed in olive oil, and laid out on parchment paper to roast. We’ve found that this helps save time too because while it is roasting you can start on your sauce!
If all this talk has you in the mood for more eggplant dishes, you might also enjoy this very similar roasted eggplant with tomato sauce recipe. It has all the flavors of this recipe but without the pasta.
Alla Norma process
Each number corresponds to the numbered written steps below.
- Ingredients shown: garlic, whole San Marzano plum tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 large eggplant, Ricotta Salata, and basil. Preheat oven to 425f and place rack in middle.
- Start by dicing the eggplant into fairly large half-moon shaped pieces about ¾" thick. Place in a bowl and coat well with a ½ cup of olive oil and a tsp of kosher salt and ½ tsp of pepper. If needed use more oil to coat all the 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 the 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 golden in color add the tomato paste and spread it out with a wooden spoon.
- Let the paste cook for a couple of minutes in the oil, then add the hand crushed or blender pulsed plum tomatoes.
- Add the ½ 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 ½ 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. 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 (¼ 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.
The process couldn’t be simpler, but I want to take a moment to point out a few things to ensure you have the best eggplant-pasta experience possible.
I didn’t add any salt to this recipe aside from what I used to season the eggplant and pasta water. The Ricotta Salata is usually salty enough. Taste it at the end and decide if you need it saltier - you may not need to add any.
This sauce holds up for a few days in the refrigerator. You may want to make the sauce one day and do the rest of the recipe the next. Sauce always tastes better after it’s been in the refrigerator for a few days.
Substitutions and enhancements
- Ricotta Salata – Ricotta salata is a salty cheese made from sheeps' milk and is good for grating or crumbling. It crumbles like feta but is a little firmer so it can be grated. If you can’t find this cheese use Pecorino Romano as the substitute. In a pinch feta could be used. Pat it dry before tying to grate it or just crumble it on.
- 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 – Remove the eggplant and it’s not Alla Norma anymore. That being said, some roasted zucchini could be 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 its own right.
More Italian eggplant recipes
- Eggplant Meatballs
- Eggplant Caponata With Raisins
- Italian Pickled Eggplant Recipe
- Sicilian-Style Eggplant Parmigiana
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- 1 pound eggplant
- 1 block Ricotta Salata
- 1 pound rigatoni
- 1 28 ounce can whole plum tomatoes hand crushed or blender pulsed
- 1 6 ounce can tomato paste
- 1 bunch fresh basil
- 5 cloves garlic chopped
- ¾ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup extra virgn olive oil
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- Preheat oven to 425f. Dice eggplant into ¾" thick cubes. Toss eggplant well with ½ cup or more of olive oil, 1 tsp kosher salt and ½ 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 ½ tsp oregano and ½ 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 (½ 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 Romano if unable to find Ricotta Salata.
- If the pasta is a little dry add some of the 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.
This recipe was originally published on April 11, 2019. It was completely updated on February 19, 2020.