Ah, Pasta alla Norma – the quintessential Sicilian pasta dish with eggplant that simply screams summer. This pasta dish is so iconic, it’s practically synonymous with Sicilian cuisine.
One bite of the Pasta alla Norma‘s salted eggplant, tomatoey sauce, and gooey cheese brings me right back to the sun-drenched streets of Catania. Keep reading to learn all about the history, ingredients, and how to make this utterly irresistible Sicilian pasta masterpiece.
A Dish Named After an Opera
So how did Pasta alla Norma get its melodious name? The dish is named after Vincenzo Bellini’s famous opera, Norma, which debuted in Catania in 1831.
Legend has it that Pasta alla Norma was invented thereafter by a talented Catania chef who was so awestruck by Bellini’s opera that he decided to name his new pasta creation after it. I don’t blame him – this pasta is nothing short of a masterpiece!
Salted & Roasted Eggplant Sets the Stage
The star of the show in Pasta alla Norma is undoubtedly the eggplant. But it’s not just any eggplant – it’s salted, roasted eggplant with a concentrated, almost smoky flavor.
Salting the eggplant before roasting is a crucial step, as it removes any bitterness and accentuates the vegetable’s natural sweetness. The high heat of the oven caramelizes the exterior and renders the interior meltingly soft.
Tomato Sauce & Ricotta Salata Join In
In Pasta alla Norma, the eggplant pairs perfectly with an uncooked tomato sauce. Canned whole peeled tomatoes are ideal, as they provide brightness and sweetness.
For an extra layer of flavor and texture, traditional recipes call for grated ricotta salata. Salty, tangy ricotta salata adds a nice counterpoint to the rich eggplant and sweet tomatoes.
Perfectly Cooked Pasta Ties It All Together
Of course, you need an equally perfect pasta to bring this dish together. Short tubular shapes like rigatoni or penne work well and grab onto the chunky vegetables and sauce.
The pasta should be cooked al dente – that magic point of doneness where it’s tender yet still has a bit of bite. Too soft or mushy and it won’t stand up to the sauce.
How to Make Pasta alla Norma Perfection
Want to make restaurant-quality Pasta alla Norma at home? Follow these simple steps:
Gather the Ingredients
- Olive oil
- Short tubular pasta like rigatoni
- Crushed red pepper
- Canned whole peeled tomatoes
- Grated ricotta salata
- Fresh basil
Roast the Eggplant
- Slice eggplants into 1/4-inch rounds
- Salt the slices to remove bitterness
- Brush with olive oil
- Roast at 425°F until tender and browned
Make the Tomato Sauce
- In olive oil, cook garlic and red pepper flakes
- Add canned tomatoes and simmer until thickened
- Stir in roasted eggplant
Boil the Pasta
- Cook pasta in generously salted water until al dente
Mix & Enjoy!
- Drain pasta and add to sauce along with pasta cooking liquid
- Toss to coat pasta in sauce
- Serve with grated ricotta salata and fresh basil
Mangia! Dig into this Sicilian staple and you’ll be transported straight to the sunny, tomato-scented streets of Catania. Pasta alla Norma is truly iconic.
Want to discover more iconic local dishes from around the world? Check out our article on 10 Must-Try Iconic Local Dishes From Around The World over at 10 Must-Try Iconic Local Dishes From Around The World for more mouthwatering recommendations!