How to make Pasta alla Norma: A Classic Italian Dish

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How to make Pasta alla Norma: A Classic Italian Dish

Pasta alla norma is a quintessential Sicilian dish, symbolizing the rich flavors and aromas of the Mediterranean.

The recipe is delightfully straightforward, requiring just a handful of ingredients to create a dish bursting with robust flavors. The process begins with crafting a classic tomato sauce, simmered to perfection, and then shifts its focus to the eggplant.

The eggplant is diced, fried in peanut oil, and subsequently combined with the sauce. The choice of pasta format is flexible, but “mezze maniche” is recommended for its sauce-absorbing qualities.

This Italian vegetarian first course is crowned with a generous sprinkling of salted ricotta cheese, providing a savory and zesty dimension. Pasta alla norma harmoniously combines the sweetness of eggplant with the tanginess of tomato, resulting in a delightful medley of tastes and textures.

Variations and Combinations

For those seeking a lighter variation, pasta with cherry tomatoes and eggplant offers a similar ingredient lineup with a distinct preparation method. Likewise, the combination of tomato and eggplant is also the cornerstone of the famed eggplant parmigiana. Another intriguing option is pasta with eggplant and mint, which undoubtedly promises to surprise your taste buds.

Why is it called pasta alla norma?

The name “alla norma” is thought to be a reference to Vincenzo Bellini’s opera of the same name, symbolizing something made “to perfection.” Legend has it that Nino Martoglio, a Sicilian playwright, once exclaimed “It’s a Norma!” when faced with a plate of this pasta, effectively comparing its excellence to Bellini’s famous opera.

Let’s now see all the steps to prepare for this typical Italian first course! Mamma mia che buono!

Pasta alla norma
Pasta alla norma

Recipe Difficulty Level: easy Servings: 4

Ingredients:

For the Pasta:

  • 360 g (2 pounds) Short pasta (Tortiglioni, mezze maniche, penne, etc.)
  • Coarse salt

For the Sauce:

  • 600 g (21 oz) Tomato puree
  • 200 g (7 oz) Salted sheep ricotta cheese
  • 30 ml (2 tbsp) Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Basil leaves (plus a few leaves for decoration)
  • 2 cloves Garlic
  • salt

For the Eggplant:

  • 800 g (28 oz) Eggplant
  • 700 ml (2¾ cups plus 3 tbsp) Peanut oil

Procedure:

For the Sauce:

To prepare Pasta alla Norma, the first step is to wash and dry the eggplant well and remove the stalk. 

Cut it into slices of about 8 mm (0.3 Inches) and transfer them to a colander. Sprinkle them with salt and let them drain for at least 15 minutes. 

Meanwhile, let’s prepare the tomato sauce. 

In a large saucepan, add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and garlic, and let them sauté. Add the tomato puree and salt. Let it cook for 10 to 15 minutes over low heat until the sauce thickens nicely. Finally, add whole or hand-chopped basil.

Time to Fry the Eggplant:

Rinse the eggplants well and pat them dry with kitchen paper. You can either leave the eggplants thinly sliced or cut them into 1 cm (0.3)cubes. 

In a high-sided pan, add the peanut oil, turn on the heat, and bring it to a maximum temperature of 175°C (347 °F). Fry the eggplants a few at a time (no more than a minute) to ensure they are evenly fried. 

Once cooked, drain them on a sheet of paper towels to allow the excess oil to dry up. 

Gently pat the eggplants dry and combine them with the tomato sauce. Mix everything well to ensure an even distribution of the sauce.

For the Pasta:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add salt, and then add the pasta. 

Cook for the time indicated on the pasta package, and drain when al dente. 

Pour the cooked pasta into the tomato and eggplant sauce. 

Grate the salted ricotta and add 3/4 of it to the pasta, mixing well until the cheese melts. 

Plate the pasta and finish the dish with a generous sprinkle of grated “ricotta salata” and a leaf of fresh basil.

Notes & Tips:

I used “mezze maniche” because they absorb the sauce well; you can choose the pasta format you prefer, though I highly recommend using a short pasta. 

When handling basil, it’s important to be delicate: avoid cutting it with blades or knives, as this can cause oxidation. Instead, break it up by hand to release all its flavors and aromas.

Storage:

I recommend enjoying Pasta alla Norma as soon as it is ready. I do not recommend freezing it. At most, you can store it for a few hours in the refrigerator by placing it in an airtight container.

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