Let me introduce you to this delicious traditional Sicilian pasta dish.
Pasta alla Norma originated in Catania, a city on the island of Sicily, Italy. It was supposedly named after Norma, the opera by 19th century composer Vincenzo Bellini. A chef from Catania named his pasta creation in tribute to this opera, and now we have a story that intertwines cuisine and art naturally.
Making pasta alla Norma is quite simple, but it is done in three separate phases. One is for the tomato sauce, another one for cooking the pasta itself, and the third one is frying the eggplant. All three should be done at the same time so that when they finish, they will still be hot and perfect for eating. The ingredients are minimal, and it is always better to use the right kind — a firm Italian eggplant, good-quality canned tomatoes and ricotta salata cheese. You might have a hard time finding ricotta salata. It is different from fresh ricotta, so don’t use that. Salata is white and crumbly like feta, salty and very tasty, but since feta is mild, it is not a good substitute. I think the best candidate for substituting ricotta salata would be pecorino Romano.
Classic pasta alla Norma recipe
Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 35 minutes | Total time: 45 minutes
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 (15-ounce) can tomatoes
- Salt, to taste
- Pepper, to taste
- 10 fresh basil leaves, divided
- 1 big (14-ounce) Italian eggplant, diced or round sliced
- 14 ounces spaghetti
- 1/4 cup (or more) grated ricotta salata cheese (pecorino Romano or sardo can be good substitutes, but do not use regular ricotta)
- In a large saucepan with extra-virgin olive oil over low-medium heat, sauté the garlic. When it turns golden and fragrant, discard it. Add the canned tomatoes, and let cook for about 20 minutes. Add the salt, pepper and 1/2 the basil. Add a bit of water if it is drying up.
- While waiting for the tomato sauce to cook, boil a pot of water for the pasta. When the water is boiling, add some salt, and then add the spaghetti. Cook according to the package instructions.
- While the spaghetti is cooking, prepare the eggplant. To a medium saucepan over medium heat, add extra-virgin olive oil (or another kind of oil). When it becomes hot, fry the eggplant until it turns golden brown. Cook in batches if needed. When cooked, transfer the eggplant to a plate lined with a paper towel to absorb the excess oil. Cover, and keep warm.
- When the pasta is cooked, transfer it to the saucepan with the tomato sauce, and mix well.
- Add the eggplant, the remaining basil and the ricotta salata cheese. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, and serve immediately.