One of my favourite peasant style dishes is Pasta alla Norma. However, in true Sicilian fashion, this eggplant based dish began its life in a very extravagant way. Named after the famous Italian Opera by Bellini, Pasta alla Norma hails from the region of Catania. However, today it is widely enjoyed around many parts of Sicily.
I have made this dish many times, often referring to different recipes I have discovered both online and during my travels throughout Sicily. For this recipe I have adapted the preparation of the eggplant from Paola Bacchia of Italy on My Mind. Paola suggests baking the eggplant in the oven rather than frying with olive oil in the pan. Personally, I prefer this method as it is a healthier alterative and is far less messy. Thank you Paola! The original Sicilian version calls for ricotta salata, an aged salted ricotta. However, as a readily available alternative, I use good quality pecorino and find it just as tasty! This is the wonderful thing about Italian cooking. Ingredients not easily accessible outside of Italy can be substituted for those which can be found in your local area, often with equally delicious results.
Pasta alla Norma must be one of the tastiest and simplest pasta dishes that I have enjoyed during my travels throughout Italy. What it lacks in time and effort, it most definitely makes up for in flavour. This delicious Sicilian eggplant and tomato based pasta dish is a friendly vegetarian alternative and can be thrown together in just over an hour. It can be enjoyed as a quick mid-week meal and is impressive enough to serve amongst friends and family. Always with a glass of vino in hand, of course!
If you’re making the fresh pasta from scratch, you can find helpful instructions here.
Otherwise, one good quality 400gram packet of Casarecce, Busate or twisted dried pasta.
- 2 medium eggplants, cut into 2cm even chunks
- 2 tins good quality chopped tin tomatoes (I often use Italian brands as I find them a little sweeter)
- ½ teaspoon chilli flakes (more if you like a little heat)
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- Loose handful of fresh torn basil leaves
- 3-4 tablespoons good quality olive oil
- To serve, grated pecorino or parmigiano reggiano
Preheat the oven to 200C. Toss the eggplant chunks onto a baking paper lined oven tray and drizzle liberally with half of the olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt to taste. Bake for 20-30 minutes until soft and tender but not crispy. Once cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool while you prepare the sauce.
To a large frypan on medium heat, add the remaining olive oil and throw in the chilli flakes (you can omit the chilli if you prefer) and the crushed garlic. Cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly so the garlic doesn’t burn. Allow the garlic to release its fragrance without letting it colour. Add the tomatoes and basil leaves and allow to simmer for a few minutes. Reduce the heat and cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens.
Cook the pasta until al dente (to the tooth). Bring to the boil a large pot of water, with a couple of pinches of salt added, and add the pasta. Cook per the timing suggested on the packet. While the pasta is cooking, throw the eggplant chunks into the sauce and stir through for a few minutes. Once the pasta is cooked, drain (reserving a little of the pasta water) and toss into the sauce and stir through with some of the reserved pasta water.
Serve with grated cheese and a few sprigs of basil leaves. Add a nice glass of Nerello Mascalese from the slopes of Mt Etna or a tasty Pinot Noir and you’re in Sicilian heaven. Buon appetito!