Pasta alla Norma | Authentic Italian Eggplant Pasta Recipe
Pasta alla Norma is so dubbed because the first person to try it observed that it's as sublime as Bellini's "Norma" opera. We have to agree! This dish is exquisite and, like all the best Italian food, bigger than the sum of its parts.
It's not Pasta alla Norma without ricotta salata cheese. While it won't be the real deal, you can substitute the admittedly rare Sicilian cheese with pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano. It will still be an amazing plate of pasta!
Watch the Pasta Grammar video where we make this recipe here:
For this recipe, you will need:
1 large eggplant
Olive oil for frying (you don't need expensive olive oil, but this is not the recipe to substitute olive for an alternative)
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled
14 oz. (400g) canned whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand or with a fork
5.5 oz. (160g) rigatoni pasta
Grated ricotta salata cheese to taste (substitute with pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano if necessary)
Cut the eggplant into 1-inch cubes. Optionally, save a few thin, round slices of eggplant for topping later.
Fill a deep pan with about 3 inches of frying oil and bring up to medium/high temperature. When the oil is hot enough that you can drop in a piece of eggplant and it bubbles and fries immediately, you're ready to cook! Simply turn down the heat a little if it ever starts bubbling too much and risks splattering.
Working in batches if necessary, carefully drop in the eggplant chunks and fry, gently stirring, until lightly browned on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Do not drain on a paper towel! We need that eggplant-flavored oil in our sauce! Set the fried eggplant aside for later.
If you saved a few slices for topping, fry those now. You can drain them on a paper towel after they have browned.
In a medium saucepan, combine 3 tbsp olive oil, the garlic clove and the whole peeled tomatoes. Bring to a gentle simmer and stir in a big pinch of salt and a few leaves of fresh basil. Partially cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes. Salt the sauce again to taste as it nears completion. Turn off the heat as the pasta cooks.
When the tomato sauce is nearly done, bring a large pot of water to boil and salt it generously. Add the rigatoni pasta and cook as directed, but for 2-3 minutes less than the recommended "al dente" cook time.
When the pasta is about 3 minutes away from being cooked, add the fried eggplant (plus any oil they drained!) into a large skillet. Ladle tomato sauce into the pan as well. You can add as much or as little as you like, you just want at least enough to coat the pasta. You can always add more later! Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer and mix it well.
When the pasta is cooked, use a slotted spoon to transfer it into the sauce. Stir all together for about 2 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente to your taste. Feel free to add more tomato sauce as desired. Also stir in a few more leaves of basil, torn into small pieces.
Serve immediately, topped with fried slices of eggplant (optional) and plenty of grated ricotta salata. Buon appetito!