STEPS 5, INGREDIENTS 9, TIME 30 MINS
This authentic Italian pasta recipe – called ‘pasta alla norma’ in Sicily where it is from – checks all of Pasta Recipes Made Easy’s favourite boxes:
• It’s utterly scrumptious (so much so it could easily become your ‘staple’ Italian pasta of choice)
• It’s simple to cook
• And… it’s suitable for everyone, vegetarians included.
Pasta alla what?
One version of this pasta’s history – subscribed to by pasta maker Barilla – suggests it was named pasta alla norma (literally ‘Norma pasta’), after Italian composer Vincenzo Bellini’s much-loved opera ‘Norma‘.
Others reckon that Bellini’s opera was such a wonderful work, its name simply became a superlative – as in “it’s a real norma” (una vera Norma) – and this term stuck with this dish because it’s just so darn tasty.
Personally, I prefer the second explanation… ‘It’s a norma! What a norma!’… fantastic.
What is it?
Cooked with short pasta shapes such as penne and casarecce (more on these here) this 100% authentic Italian pasta recipe blends a typically flavorful tomato sauce and a smidgen of garlic with strips of softly fried eggplant (called aubergine by us Brits), therefore utilising one of Southern Europe’s most mouth-watering vegetable combos.
The Sicilians also pop some ricotta on top of this dish. Mmmm… juicy stuff.
(Note: If you love this easy eggplant recipe’s winning taste, have a go at this lasagna recipe too – you’ll love it.)
Enough with the explanations then – let’s give this most operatic of authentic Italian pasta recipes a whirl. It’s a real norma!
Ingredients: (For a printable PDF shopping list click here, or right-click this link and choose ‘Save target/link as’ to save it for later.)
1 x 395g/14oz tin of plum tomatoes
200g/7oz short pasta (penne/rigatoni/casarecce/fusilli etc.)
200g/7oz eggplants/aubergines (ideally this will be 4 small and thin eggplants; if not just 2 medium/large ones)
20-30 leaves of fresh basil (just 15 if they’re really big!)
1 garlic clove
Extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
Tomato purée/paste (recommended)
1 small tub of Italian ricotta cheese
Frying pan (ideally with lid)
Large pan/skillet (for pasta)
Absorbent kitchen paper/roll
Preparation: 5 mins
Cooking: 25-30 mins
Overall: 30-35 mins
Here’s my video guide:
STEP 1 – Preparation first. Wash the eggplants, slice them longways into quarters, then carefully cut out their seeded centre sections.
Note: We’re looking to just use the centimetre of eggplant ‘flesh’ next to the skin – all the other centre flesh can go in the trash (This is why I recommend small thin eggplants for this authentic italian pasta recipe – it simply wastes less food!)
Now continue slicing the eggplant into French fry shapes – roughly 5cm (2-inches) long by 1cm (1/3 inch) thick.
Peel the garlic clove and cut this into quarters.
Grate your parmesan cheese, and wash and tear the basil leaves.
STEP 2 – Cover your frying pan’s base in vegetable oil (not olive oil), and warm this on a medium hob.
When hot, add the garlic and half the basil leaves. Fry these, stirring occasionally, until the garlic begins to turn golden (roughly 4-5 minutes).
– When the garlic is turning gold, throw in the eggplant, stir and cover the pan.
Cook for 8-9 minutes, stirring regularly, until the eggplant softens.
When is it soft enough? If you can break an eggplant strip by pushing down on it with a wooden spoon, it’s soft enough. If not, keep frying…
STEP 3 – Cover a large plate with a piece or two of kitchen roll. When the eggplant is soft, spoon the eggplant and basil mixture (with as little oil as possible) onto this plate.
(If you don’t like eating crunchy garlic, fish out and bin the garlic quarters now.)
Add a good glug of olive oil into the frying pan (still on the heat), and when hot add the remaining basil and fry for a minute more.
Throw in the entire tin of tomatoes, one teaspoon of salt and add a squirt of tomato paste. Gently fry, stirring regularly and covered if you have a lid, for 3-5 minutes.
When the tomatoes soften, squash each two or three times with a fork. (Don’t overdo this however, as pasta alla norma’s sauce should be chunkier and rougher than a standard tomato sauce.)
STEP 4 – Continue frying the toms – with these bubbling away gently – for a further 10-12 minutes.
Between stirs, boil up a kettle and fill your large pasta pan, adding two good handfuls of salt to bring out the pasta’s taste.
Get this water boiling then throw in your pasta and set your watch or timer, as per the packet’s timings (usually around ten minutes).
STEP 5 – Taste the tomato sauce. If it has lost its sourness after 10 mins, it’s ready, so add the eggplant and basil mixture from its plate.
Tip: If the tomato sauce tastes as sour as it did at the start, add a pinch of sugar, mix in, fry another minute. That should do it – no more acidity!
If the pasta is still cooking and not yet ‘al dente’, keep this sauce warm on a minimum heat hob.
When the pasta is cooked, drain this in a colander and pour into the frying pan with the eggplant and tomato sauce.
Now just add the grated parmesan, give it all a good stir, and cook through on a medium heat for a minute or two.
That’s it… an authentic Italian pasta recipe I’m sure you’ll want to cook up time and time again.
To serve: Just pop each portion in its dish and if doing it Sicilian style, pop a blob of ricotta cheese on top of each serving.
(In Sicily they actually use a local cheese variant called ‘ricotta salata’ (‘salty ricotta’). One good reason to visit that island then!)
If you don’t have ricotta but do have more grated parmesan, add a little of that instead.
What did you think? If you were looking for an authentic Italian pasta recipe, found this page, and tried it… did you enjoy it?