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!

Pasta alla Norma in white plate with basil garnish and shredded ricotta salata.

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!  

For a full Sicilian experience serve this pasta followed with an orange and fennel salad and some cannoli for dessert!

Ingredients shown: pasta, eggplants, extra virgin olive oil, plum tomatoes and tomato paste, basil, ricotta salata, and garlic.

How to make it

Each number corresponds to the numbered written steps below.

  1. 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.

Pasta alla Norma recipe process shot collage group number one.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Recipe process shot collage group number two.

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.

Recipe process shot collage group number three.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Recipe process shot collage group number four.

  1. 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.

Overhead shot of large pan with pasta alla Norma and block of ricotta salata on the side.

Top tips

  • 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. 

Overhead shot of pasta alla Norma in pan with shredded ricotta salata and basil.

More eggplant recipes

If you love eggplant, here are a few of our favorites!

If you’ve enjoyed this Pasta alla Norma recipe or any recipe on this site, give it a 5-star rating and leave a review.

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Pasta Alla Norma

5 from 11 votes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 35 minutes
Total: 45 minutes
Servings: 4
Pasta alla Norma is a Sicilian pasta that combines eggplant and al dente pasta tossed with tomato sauce and finished with fresh basil and ricotta salata.

Ingredients 

  • 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

Instructions 

  • 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!

Notes

  • 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

Calories: 809kcal | Carbohydrates: 77.1g | Protein: 22.1g | Fat: 48.6g | Saturated Fat: 10.3g | Cholesterol: 113mg | Sodium: 1047mg | Potassium: 465mg | Iron: 5.2mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Like this? Leave a comment below!Check us out on Instagram at @sipandfeast or tag #sipandfeast!

This recipe was originally published on April 11, 2019.  It was completely updated on July 12, 2023

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30 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I am growing my own Japanese eggplant to make with this dish. I’ve made it before with ricotta Salata but it is very hard to find around here and outrageously expensive. I read that one substitute for it is the Mexican cheese called queso fresco. If you have any other suggestions as a substitute I welcome it.
    Other than that I will be following your recipe exactly

    1. Hi Ann. The Mexican cheese you suggest is a good substitute. I would buy the salted version. Feta is similar and would also work. Many people will simply use more Pecorino Romano for this dish. I think you’ll be fine with any of these. Enjoy!

    1. Hi Joy, I’ve not tested this recipe with breaded eggplant so can’t comment on how it would turn out. I’d probably stick to either frying it in oil or roasting like I’ve done here in the recipe.

  2. Hello very interested in making this recipe. I have 2 questions.
    1. Why do you use tomato paste? Can I make it without tomato paste?
    2. What other vegetables can I substitute instead of eggplant please.
    Thank You .🙏

    1. Hi Shobhna, you can make this without tomato paste. I like using paste because it adds depth of flavor. You can definitely use crushed or plum tomatoes though. If you want to substitute a vegetable for eggplant, I’d suggest zucchini.

  3. 5 stars
    Your recipes are outstanding….the Sunday sauce, meatballs, lentil soup, pasta norma…all that I’ve tried or read so far are just great. All of them are almost the same as I learned from an older Italian woman now in the U.S. My question is simple…have you written a cookbook or do you plan to? I’d be first in line—after your family, maybe—to purchase it for myself and friends. A million thanks!

    1. Thank you, Anthony. Really appreciate that! I’ve not written a cookbook yet but it is on my radar and hoping for sometime in 2023!

  4. Jim is my favorite new chef. I’m Italian and I cook just like him. The best recipes made simple.

  5. 5 stars
    This was amazing! I ‘cheated’ a bit by using Jar Goods Spicy Classic sauce (their sauces come closest to the ‘gravy’ I grew up) to save time, and also had to substitute pecorino for the ricotta salata. So easy to prepare and the result was simply delicious. I will definitely be making this again and again as well as trying your other pasta dishes.

    1. So glad you enjoyed it! I’m glad it worked out for you with the substitutions. Hope you enjoy all the other pasta recipes!

  6. 5 stars
    This was delicious. I didn’t have all of the ingredients in my pantry and had to made some substitutions but it still turned out great. The whole family (who are not big eggplant fans) cleaned their plates. It’s a keeper! Thanks for sharing!