Pasta alla Norma, an Italian classic. Beautifully seared eggplant meets a rich sweet tomato sauce playing in the folds of a wonderful Pennoni pasta! Furthermore, add a grating of ricotta salata, totally delectable and exquisite!
[This post was first published in March 2015. It has been updated for photos and writeup].
Behind every great pasta is a great sauce, whether a simple oil, garlic, and chilies or a more complex Carbonara or how about fettuccine with mushrooms, the end results is always fabulous. In addition, the fact remains that pasta is a great food if prepared properly.
Key points to great pasta
Three key points to a good pasta:
- Firstly, use good quality products.
- Secondly, pay attention to cooking times.
- Lastly, have a passion for what you do and cook with lots of love.
For us, pasta is a great dish when you have had a busy day and you want to make something quick and easy yet healthy and delicious.
To the South of Italy
The pasta I have prepared tonight is my version of Pasta alla Norma, a classic regional Italian dish, from Sicily to be precise. I used Pennoni, a big-size penne pasta, and a nice tomato sauce with a slight kick to it and a beautiful seared sliced eggplant, keeping some out of the sauce for garnish because we Italians like to highlight ingredients!
Cheese glorious cheese
The key to this dish is to use a ricotta salata, a salted ricotta cheese, instead of the Parmigiano, that you shave, or crumble, on top. It is going to melt in the sauce and become a delicious cream. I tried to be very close to the original recipe because you know, when it comes to Pasta alla Norma, it is a classic, consequently, a pretty serious business.
The beauty of freshness and quality
I love this picture above. It is like the ingredients are talking to me enticing me to get cooking. Look at the eggplant and those tomatoes, don't they look so beautiful. I can't wait to get started!
The joy of shopping
I went shopping at the Italian store to pick up key ingredients like San Marzano tomatoes, ricotta salata (similar to feta but not so acidic and pungent). Also picked up some fresh basil, just because. The eggplant and garlic I picked up at the Old Strathcona Farmer's Market. The olive oil we always have on hand along with some nice dried chilies. When these ingredients team up, the end result is always spectacular!
Time to get cooking!
- Firstly we have to get that sauce simmering. Easy breezy: a splash of olive oil, some chili flakes, and garlic. Heat on and that oil gets all flavored up. In go the tomatoes that a break apart with my hands and furthermore with a potato masher and finish with some basil torn up, salt and pepper. A low simmer and the sauce is on its way!
- Secondly, have to cut up the eggplant. I peel it first then cut it into rounds ½ cm thick, adding an additional cut in half creating two half circles. Olive oil in a pan and I sear these babies, in two batches, as not to crowd the pan, until golden and a slight char. While that is happening I grate some of the ricotta salata.
- Lastly, the lovely cooked eggplant goes into the sauce that has thickened and become so sweet and rich. Oh, save some of the cooked eggplant for garnish! Look how lovely that eggplant looks so lovingly bathed by the tomato sauce.
It's pasta time
A good size pot of salted water boiling on the stovetop and in goes our pasta. Always look at the cooking time on the package, however, don't take that as the absolute. Taste the pasta when close to the end cooking time. It always should be al dente meaning a slight crunch! This really highlights the flavor of the pasta!
TIP from our kitchen: As for the pasta shapes, traditionally only "pasta corta" (short pasta) is used for Pasta alla Norma. Think rigatoni, sedani, mezze maniche, maccheroni, penne/pennoni.
Quasi pronto means almost ready in Italian. It is now that we really feel our hunger elevate and consequently a symphony of stirring and groans coming from our stomach!
Our pasta is cooked, we mixed it in the sauce with eggplant. Now the only thing left is to plate and let's step up the pace because I am super hungry!
The aroma coming off this dish and the kitchen transport me back to Italy. I love Sunday mornings in a small town. You hear the clanking of spoons and dishes, however, there is something even better, the aroma of all that good food cooking! It is a total heavenly experience. One that I hold in my heart deeply! Oh, by the way, for those of you that don't know what mangia mangia means, it is EAT! EAT! Lol.
Now back to the Pasta alla Norma, an Italian classic! Talk about working together, that rich sauce with a nice subtle spicy hit pairs so well with the sweetness and caramelized flavor of the eggplant. The ricotta salata offers a beautiful balance of acidity and with each bite, the craving for more gets even stronger!
Classic Italian dishes
One thing for sure, the Italian culture is really about food! These dishes are a deep-rooted memory into our past and respected today. Steeped in flavor and texture, they are great dishes to bring to the lunch or dinner table, so why not make tonight Italian and serve up some plates of this Pasta alla Norma, an Italian classic.
- 1 medium eggplant
- 1-2 cloves garlic
- Pinch of dried chili flakes (peperoncino)
- ½ large can San Marzano D.O.P. tomatoes (about 350-400 g)
- 3 Tbsp extra virgin cold pressed olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 250 g good quality Italian "short" pasta (rigatoni, maccheroni, penne, pennoni)
- 3-4 leaves of fresh basil, also for garnish
- ricotta salata, grated or crumbled
- In a sauté pan drizzle olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add cloves of garlic and crushed chilies. Saute for 1 minute.
- Squeeze tomatoes in the pan and pour in the juice. You can puree them in a food processor if you want. I also use a potato masher to finish breaking them up.
- Break up basil leaves, add salt and pepper to taste and put into the pan, partially cover, and let simmer till thickened about 20 minutes.
- While the sauce is simmering, peel and cut the eggplant into ½ cm thick rounds, then those rounds in half creating two half circles. Continue this until the eggplant is all cut up.
- Heat some more olive oil in another sauté pan and sauté eggplant, sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook till golden and a slight char on the edges. Add to the sauce, setting aside about a third for garnishing.
- Bring a pot of salted water to boil, add pasta, and cook according to the product suggested time (remember you can taste the pasta to make sure it's al dente).
- Take the pasta and toss in tomato sauce and plate.
- Put a bit of the seared eggplant you set aside on top and finish with some grated ricotta salata.
- If you want you can also drizzle a little olive oil on top and add some basil leaves for decoration.
Now it's ready to serve and eat.
When frying the eggplant slices just put enough eggplant in the pant to fill the bottom. Don't pile them all in you won't get that nice caramelization and color.
You could grill the eggplant slices or bake them in the oven. It won't be traditional, but healthier.
If you want you can puree the tomatoes in a food processor until somewhat smooth.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 30 minutes
- Category: Main
- Method: Stove top
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: Italian food, pasta alla norma, basil, san marzano tomatoes, garlic, chili flakes, eggplant, ricotta salata, classic
When I am not cooking, I enjoy playing musical instruments, singing, writing. I have learned over the years to live in gratitude and enjoy the moment.