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. 🙁
FOR MORE PASTA IDEAS, CHECK OUT MY PASTA COLLECTION!
- 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. 😀