The name of the dish is said to originate from the apocryphal exclamation by the Italian writer Nino Martoglio who, upon tasting the dish, exclaimed “This is a real ‘Norma‘!”, comparing it with the exceptional perfection of the Vincenzo Bellini opera Norma.
We obtained the recipe from Milk Street, but changed the penne pasta to gemelli, which gives a twist to the texture and captures more of the sauce in its curves. Feel free to use whatever pasta suits your fancy.
The eggplant is typically fried before being added to the sauce, but here it is roasted to concentrate the flavors and condense the porous texture. The eggplant is in the oven for about 30 minutes unattended, except for one toss; so use that time to prep the other ingredients, cook the pasta and simmer the tomatoes to make the sauce.
If you’ve never had ricotta salata, it is a firm cheese with a milky, salty flavor. Do not substitute fresh ricotta; a mild feta is a more appropriate substitute.
Don’t forget to reserve about ½ cup of the pasta cooking water before draining. You’ll need the starchy, salted liquid to help bring together the eggplant, pasta and sauce during the final simmer.
Pasta Alla Norma
- 1 lb. eggplant, peeled and cut into ¾-inch cubes
- Kosher salt
- 6 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 12 oz. penne rigate or mezze rigatoni pasta
- 8 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
- ½ tsp. red pepper flakes
- 2 pints grape tomatoes
- 2 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
- ½ cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
- 2 oz. ricotta salata, shredded
- Heat the oven to 475°F with a rack in the upper-middle position. Line a rimmed baking sheet with kitchen parchment.
- In a large bowl, toss the eggplant with 1½ teaspoons salt and 4 tablespoons of the oil. Spread in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet and roast until browned and tender, 30 to 35 minutes, stirring once.
- Meanwhile, in a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Stir in the pasta and 2 tablespoons salt; cook until the pasta is al dente. Reserve about ½ cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta.
- While the eggplant roasts and the water heats, in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil until shimmering. Add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Add the tomatoes and 1½ teaspoons salt, then cover and cook, occasionally shaking the pan, until the tomatoes begin to release their liquid, about 1 minute.
- Stir in the vinegar, then use the back of a large spoon to crush the tomatoes. Cover, reduce to medium and cook, stirring, until the mixture breaks down into a lightly thickened sauce, 8 to 9 minutes.
- Add the drained pasta, eggplant and ¼ cup of the reserved pasta water to the tomatoes. Cook over medium, stirring constantly, until the sauce begins to cling to the pasta, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Taste and season with salt. Stir in half of the basil and transfer to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with the remaining basil and the ricotta salata.
Recipe adapted from Milk Street