Pasta Alla Norma is one of those classic Italian recipes that is a fail-safe dish to satisfy any flavour pangs you're having. Mid-week, I'm often not in the mood for an extravagant dinner prep. Pasta is the go-to for a quick and easy flavour fix. Vegetarian pasta recipes are even quicker! I've been cooking Pasta Alla Norma for years, as it's a fail-safe dish to put together that's ready in no time and consistently delicious.
What is Pasta Alla Norma?
The dish is rumoured to have been named 'Norma' by the Italian writer Nino Martoglio who, upon tasting the dish, exclaimed "This is a real 'Norma'!"- he was referring to the Vincenzo Bellini opera Norma, which he considered 'perfection'.
The dish originates in Sicily and features fried eggplant/aubergine combined with tomato, basil and pasta. The pasta variety changes. I like to serve mine with rigatoni as it has lots of ridges to catch the thick, tangy sauce.
Pasta Alla Norma is a simple dish with few ingredients. Tomatoes are in the form of Passata (strained tomatoes, bottled). The tomato flavour is intensified further with a little puree concentrate. I use 'tripo' strength (triple). I also use it sparingly.
The fresh, herbaceous notes come from basil. There is nothing more Italian than tomato and basil and the leaves permeate every part of the sauce with their sweet, aniseed flavour. It's perfection!
Eggplant is fried before adding to the sauce - eggplant and oil LOVE each other, so be sure to fry in a decent oil as this will form part of the overall flavour of the sauce. Typically I don't use extra virgin olive oil for frying, but I use one for this recipe as you can taste it in in the final dish. The eggplant is fried until dark golden - the charred bits are all flavour, so make sure you get a nice colour, without burning them, naturally! The eggplant is now set aside as we concentrate on the sauce.
Onion and garlic are fried in a little oil - tomato passata is added and the sauce simmers along with the basil until rich and glossy and seasoned to perfection. There's only one last step to finish the dish.
The eggplant is returned to the pan and simmered until meltingly soft. And that's it! I just love how simple some Italian dishes are to create at home. This is pure delicious just as it is, but when combined with the next magical ingredient, Pasta Alla Norma is elevated to the next level of tasty.
What is Ricotta Salata?
Ricotta salata translated as 'salted ricotta'. To lengthen the shelf life of ricotta, salt is added to the regular recipe and the cheese is pressed and aged to form a semi-firm consitancy that holds its shape. It creates a mild, salty flavour - slightly reminiscent of Greek feta. It's generously grated or crumbled over Pasta Alla Norma.
Sadly, Ricotta Salata is not widely and readily available outside of Italy. You can find it from good Italian deli's and online for sure, but this requires a bit of forward planning, so you may just substitute with Italian Parmesan or Pecorino. No judgement! For this recipe, I was forced to use Parmigiano Reggiano as my local 'dealer' has closed due to COVID - DAMN YOU 2020!!
So, for a super simple, super effective, super authentic (minus the ricotta salata) Pasta Alla Norma, be sure to add this to your weekday pasta rotation. Thanks to passata, it's good all year round, come rain or shine. Bellissimo!
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How to make my Pasta Alla Norma