Pasta alla Norma
The Italian Island of Sicily is rich in culinary traditions and home to great artists like the opera composer Vincenzo Bellini. Bellini’s most famous opera is NORMA, and Sicily’s tribute to him is Pasta alla Norma, an irresistible preparation of tubular pasta shapes like ziti, rigatoni, or penne, with eggplant, tomatoes, basil and ricotta salata. The name Pasta alla Norma is said to have originated from the cry of joy and approval that people cannot repress after they eat this Sicilian specialty: “This pasta is a NORMA!” meaning a masterpiece.
This is a simple recipe courtesy of Chef Rosario, but it’s one that requires the highest possible quality ingredients. Chef Rosario recommends using small fresh eggplant—slender ones are best—that are not very seedy. This way, the eggplant doesn’t need to be salted and pressed to remove bitter juices. Additionally, use high quality San Marzano tomatoes. Ricotta salata is the cheese of choice; however, if you can’t find it, you can use Greek feta or a young Pecorino (sheep’s milk) since Sicilian ricotta is usually made with sheep’s milk.
Chef Rosario notes about the preparation of the eggplant in this recipe that, “Every home cook or chef has a different way prepare the eggplant for this dish. Some deep fry thin slices of eggplant and then set them on a paper towel to drain the excess oil. I prefer to toss the eggplant in just enough oil to turn it golden as it pan-sears so that draining it is not necessary. Pasta, tomato, and eggplant all take 10 to 12 minutes to cook, so they should be ready all at about the same time or with a short resting time for the sauce and the eggplant.”
Buon appetito and SHARE THE PASTA!!
Pasta alla Norma
- 8 oz Penne rigate (penne pasta with ridges), ziti, or rigatoni
- 1/2 cup EVOO (2 TBS for tomato sauce, ¼ cup for coating the eggplant and 2 TBS for the eggplant pan)
- 2 Garlic cloves, chopped
- 14.5 oz Can of San Marzano tomatoes
- 1 Small eggplant (¾ lb. to 1 lb. max.) cut into1” cubes
- 4 oz Ricotta salata, shredded
- A few leaves of fresh basil and a few basil sprigs.
- Salt to taste
Bring a large pot of water (4 to 5 quarts) to a boil over high heat.
While water is heating, cut the eggplant and chop the garlic. (If you prefer the eggplant without the peel, you can remove some or all of it.)
Heat 2 Tablespoons of oil in a large non-reactive pan on medium heat.
Add chopped garlic and cook for a minute or two over medium heat, being careful NOT to brown it.
Add tomatoes. Stir often with a wooden spoon, breaking them up as you mix. Cook for 10 minutes. Season with a pinch of salt to taste and keep warm.
While tomatoes are cooking, toss the diced eggplant in a bowl with ¼ cup of evoo. Heat a second nonstick pan (large enough to accommodate all the eggplant in one layer) on medium heat, add the remaining 2 TBS of oil and sauté the eggplant—stirring often—until golden. This should take about 10 minutes. Salt to taste and keep warm.
Once the water has reached a rapid boil, add salt to taste and then the pasta. Cook until very al dente (about 1 minute less than the recommended cooking time on package directions).
When pasta is ready, reserve ½ cup of pasta water and drain the rest.
Transfer the pasta to the pan with the tomato sauce along with basil leaves and some of the pasta water as needed to keep the sauce moist but not too wet; mix well on low heat until all the flavors are well incorporated, making sure that all the pasta water has been absorbed.
Pasta alla Norma heils from Catania on the Eastern coast of Sicily. From this historic city you can see Etna, the largest active Volcano in Europe. The volcanic soils around this majestic mountain are perfect for growing fruits and vines. The red wine Tenuta Terre Nere Etna Rosso is the perfect expression of this land and this climate growing high on the slopes of the volcano a blend of local varieties Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio. Fresh, fragrant, beautifully slender and with aroma of ripe fruits and sweet spices is the perfect match for our PASTA ALLA NORMA!