Pasta alla Norma, my second most favorite pasta dish. (I will write about the first one in a couple of weeks, promise!). This dish originated from Sicily, specifically Catania, a city on the eastern part of the island. Why is it called ‘Pasta alla Norma’? Well, apparently, it was named after an opera called ‘Norma’ by Vincenzo Bellini, a Catania-born composer. You will find this dish in every menu of every restaurant, trattoria or osteria in the entire island of Sicily (seriously!).
I learned about this pasta dish when we were planning to spend our summer going around Sicily (from east to west). I wanted to know Sicily’s most popular dishes; and this one is always on the top five. I was intrigued by the concept of using eggplant with pasta, so I had to give it a try. (Ok, confession time: I wanted to sort of master it so I get to compare my ‘best’ version of the dish to the authentic one 😉 ) I cooked it four Sundays in a row, before I finally managed to say ‘That’s exactly how I like it’ 😀
Our first stop in our Sicily trip was Catania, and for the first meal, (yep, you guessed it), I ordered pasta alla norma. It was not a letdown, they used spaghetti for pasta, but they also had ricotta salata – a type of ricotta that I was not able to find in Stockholm. The entire time I was making it in Stockholm, I was using parmigiano-reggiano. When I tasted ricotta salata, I realized how it made the dish more delicate, compared to the robust flavor of parmigiano.
Funny thing was, when I had a chat with a Sicilian on how they cook their pasta alla norma and I told him that I prefer to roast the eggplants, instead of frying them. His answer was ‘That is NOT pasta alla norma.’ Oops! Well, this recipe is how I prefer to make MY pasta alla norma. 🙂
By the way, since we got back from that Sicilian trip, I ALWAYS skip the cheese. I will only put cheese on top once I find ricotta salata here in Stockholm. I love parmigiano, but I just don’t think it’s right for pasta alla norma. 🙁
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 small eggplants, cut into 1-inch cubes
- some salt
- dash of red pepper flakes (pepperoncino)
- 2 small cloves of garlic
- 3/4 to 1 cup of crushed tomatoes
- 220 grams penne
- handful fresh basil leaves, chopped coarsely
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius (400 degrees F).
Toss eggplants, 1 tbsp of olive oil and a bit of salt in a baking sheet. Put in the oven for 30 minutes, or until the eggplants become brown and tender.
- Start preparing the pasta as per package instruction.
While waiting for the pasta, heat the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil in a pan and add garlic. Once garlic starts to get fragrant, add the crushed tomatoes and bring to a quick boil. Simmer for around 10 minutes and season with salt and red pepper flakes.
- Once the sauce has thickened up slightly, add the roasted eggplants and stir to combine. Keep simmering on very low heat while waiting for the pasta to be ready.
Once the pasta is ready, add them to the pan with the sauce and eggplant and stir gently to coat the pasta. Add the chopped basil leaves.
Serve with grated ricotta salata on top, if desired.
- You can adjust the amount of red pepper flakes (pepperoncino) that you use in this recipe. I wrote ‘a dash’ for a mild flavor. I normally use around 1/8 tsp, but that is just me. 😀