Pasta alla Norma, made with baked or roasted eggplant, ricotta, tomatoes, pasta, and fresh herbs, is an authentic Sicilian dinner that’s welcome any day of the week, any night of the year.
Pasta alla Norma
- Quick Glance
- 25 M
- 1 H
- Serves 4 to 6
Heat the oven to 425°F (218°C).
Using a vegetable peeler or a paring knife, peel all or some of the skin from the eggplant in stripes (it can be nice to have some, but not all, of the eggplant skin in the final pasta dish). Cut the eggplant into 1-inch dice and toss it on a rimmed baking sheet with enough olive oil to lightly coat it. Sprinkle with salt.
Roast the eggplant until browned and very tender, about 20 minutes. The eggplant is done when you can easily squish a cube with your finger and it has a nice, creamy texture.
Meanwhile, bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring frequently, according to the package instructions.
If you’re in a hurry, cut the tomatoes into large dice about the size of, well, dice. Don’t bother removing the skins and seeds. If you have a moment to intensify the flavor of your tomatoes, remove their skins and seeds and dice them, then place the diced tomatoes in a colander, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and let sit for 10 minutes.
Warm a large skillet over low heat and add the 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss in the garlic and crushed red pepper and stir a bit. Add the basil and a sprinkle of salt, raise the heat to medium and cook, stirring, until the basil is dark green and wilted, being careful not to burn the garlic.
Add the tomatoes, sprinkle with the salt (if you haven’t already), and cook until the tomatoes barely lose their rawness, about 5 minutes. Add the roasted eggplant and let the sauce simmer gently until the pasta is ready.
Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup pasta cooking water. Toss the drained pasta with the sauce, the mint, and the parsley, tasting and adjusting the seasoning if necessary. If the mixture seems dry, add some of the pasta cooking water, a little at a time, until the sauce is your desired consistency. Toss in the ricotta salata, if using, and pass the Parmesan to grate. Originally published August 17, 2015.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
This is a terrific vegetarian-friendly pasta which, while wonderful at the height of summer, could be good year-round if you have access to good eggplant and tomatoes. For those of us who really love eggplant, the roasted treatment means you get all the lovely flavors and the oven does the hard work. The recipe can easily expand or contract. I tried this recipe a second time with narrow Chinese eggplants and that worked fine as well.
I used more than 1 1/2 pounds fresh heirloom tomatoes, diced, with their skin. If you can mix varieties, play with the flavors, maybe using yellow and red tomatoes. It only takes a few minutes to dice the tomatoes, which you can do while the eggplant is roasting. Basil is the star herb in this dish, so I found keeping the mint and parsley to 2 or 3 tablespoons total was plenty without dominating the dish. The herbs played really well with the ricotta salata. This is perhaps the first time I've really seen this cheese work well in a dish, and it was a nice contrast, as it didn't really melt but grated nicely. In a pinch, you could substitute feta; I tried that on my second batch, and it worked will with the ingredients, but it tended to melt and was less distinctive than the ricotta.
Be sure to watch your eggplant as it's roasting; I found with the Italian variety that I needed to give it an extra 5 to 10 minutes in the oven and toss it a bit in the middle. The narrow Chinese varieties roasted a bit quicker even though the dicing was roughly the same.
We first tried this dish with linguine and then used penne with the leftover sauce the next day. I think the penne worked a bit better. The sauce reheated nicely and did not suffer at all. The second batch of the sauce, which I made with Chinese eggplant, a mix of yellow and red tomatoes, and feta in place of the ricotta salata, was served over zucchini noodles and was stunning—my chief taster asked twice if I was sure there was not any “real pasta” in this dish.
For vegans, the cheese could be left out, and this sauce would still be wonderful.
When I look at how quickly this comes together and how fresh it is, I have to wonder why there are so many bottled sauces in the grocery store—this has to be better than any I have seen yet. It's simple, fast, healthy. This will be a regular menu item at our house!
The problem with traditional pasta alla Norma, as with any sautéed eggplant dish, is that, as I'm sure you've noticed, eggplant absorbs oil like a sponge, and 1/2 cup oil can disappear into one's pasta sauce only to magically reappear later on one's waistline. This recipe solves that problem by tossing the eggplant in a minimal amount of oil and salt and roasting it in the oven. Not only does it save on the fat, but in my opinion, this technique produces a cleaner, more vibrantly flavored dish.
The roasted eggplant absorbs flavors from the sauce rather than getting saturated with oil, and has a deep, almost meaty flavor. The flavor is further enlivened by the generous use of herbs, especially the mint. One could reduce the fat in this recipe even more, as 4 tablespoons oil is really more than you need to sauté the garlic and get the tomato sauce going. The ricotta salata, which the author lists as optional, is the traditional cheese for this dish, but I decided to omit it. The author also suggests serving grated Parmesan at the table, which isn't traditional for this dish. I skipped that as well in order to keep the dish vegan. Either way, this will make for a very delicious and satisfying vegan or vegetarian main.
The timing was perfect for cooking the eggplant. I used 3 tomatoes that weighed a total of just under 20 ounces. I didn't peel or seed them nor did I salt them in advance. I just plopped them in the pan and salted them later to taste.