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Pasta alla Norma is a signature Italian dish of pasta and eggplant! A tangy red sauce and salty cheese complete this Sicilian masterpiece.

Pasta alla Norma
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Looking for a pasta recipe to impress? Try the signature Italian dish Pasta alla Norma! This impressive recipe hails from Sicily and like any classic Italian dish, it’s all about elegant simplicity. Sauteed eggplant tastes savory and meaty against a tangy tomato sauce, al dente pasta and salty ricotta salata cheese. The combination of flavors and textures is a true masterpiece! Simply called “la Norma” when you order it in Sicily, it’s a standout Italian pasta that will impress everyone.

What is Pasta all Norma?

Pasta alla Norma is an Italian pasta dish made of eggplant, tubular pasta, tomato sauce and ricotta salata cheese. It’s the specialty in the city of Catania in Sicily, but it’s served all over the island.

Why Norma? (That’s what we said.) It’s said to be named after the opera Norma by composer Vincenzo Bellini. Apparently an Italian writer tasted the pasta and said it was “a real Norma,” an 1830’s way of saying it was a masterpiece. The name stuck and it’s been around to this day.

Pasta alla Norma

Ingredients in Pasta alla Norma

This Pasta alla Norma recipe is inspired by some stories set in Sicily we’ve been enjoying lately (the book From Scratch by Tembi Locke and of course the HBO show White Lotus!). So we set about to recreate this iconic dish to get a little taste of the country. We adapted our version from this authentic Sicilian recipe.

Like any Italian pasta, the genius of La Norma is its simplicity. Here’s what you’ll need for pasta alla Norma:

  • Eggplant
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic
  • Fresh parsley and basil
  • Crushed canned tomatoes
  • Oregano
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pasta
  • Ricotta salata cheese
  • Pecorino Romano cheese

Why you need ricotta salata

What’s ricotta salata cheese, and is it necessary for this recipe? Well, this special type of cheese is iconic for the dish.

  • Ricotta salata is a Sicilian version of ricotta that’s pressed and aged. It’s nothing like soft fresh ricotta, which is very mild and creamy. Ricotta salata is hard like Parmesan cheese and needs to be grated to add to a dish. It has a unique salty, briny flavor.
  • What are substitutes? If you can’t find it, the Greek cheese Mizithra is a great substitute. Don’t use fresh ricotta, which is soft and creamy instead of salty and aged.
  • Can’t find either? Use feta cheese for a similar flavor, or omit the ricotta salata and just use Pecorino Romano cheese.

We’ve tried both ricotta salata and Mizithra cheeses and they’re incredibly close in flavor and texture. This cheese is essential if you’re trying to recreate the Sicilian dish, but don’t let it dissuade you from making the recipe entirely. It’s nearly as tasty with simply Pecorino Romano as the garnish!

Pasta alla Norma

Cook the pasta to al dente

The most important thing to remember when making Pasta all Norma? Cook your pasta to al dente! This means “to the bite” in Italian: ideally when it’s tender with a small white speck inside when you bite into a piece. There’s nothing worse than soft, rubbery pasta. Here are a few tips for the perfect al dente pasta:

  • Boil the pasta a few minutes less than indicated on the package instructions. Often package instructions make for overcooked pasta.
  • Start taste testing early. Start taste testing and stop cooking when the pasta is just tender but you can still see a small white speck inside.

And that’s it! Head to the recipe below to try Pasta alla Norma: and let us know what you think! We’d love to hear from you: especially if you are Sicilian or have sampled this dish in Sicily.

More pasta recipes

Want more tasty Italian pasta recipes and pasta sauces? Here are a few more ideas:

This Pasta alla Norma recipe is…

Vegetarian.

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Pasta alla Norma

Pasta alla Norma


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  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x

Description

Pasta alla Norma is a signature Italian dish of pasta and eggplant! A tangy red sauce and salty cheese complete this Sicilian masterpiece.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 large eggplant (about 1 ½ pounds), chopped into 3/4” inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced 
  • ¼ cup roughly chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
  • ¼ cup roughly chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish
  • 28 ounce can high quality crushed tomatoes, such as San Marzano 
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano 
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar, optional
  • 12 ounces large tubular pasta (rigatoni or we used calamarata)
  • ¼ cup grated ricotta salata*, to serve
  • Grated Pecorino Romano cheese, to serve

Instructions

  1. In a large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the eggplant and ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Sauté for 7 to 10 minutes until browned and tender, stirring often so the eggplant doesn’t stick (the pan will be pretty dry, but this is as expected). Remove the eggplant to a bowl.
  2. Reduce the heat to low and add 1 tablespoon olive oil, along with the garlic, parsley and basil and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, oregano, ½ teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to a simmer and simmer 15 minutes, until the flavors meld. Stir in ¼ teaspoon the sugar. Add in the eggplant just before serving.
  3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil the pasta to al dente and drain. Add the pasta back to the pot with a drizzle of olive oil. Pour the sauce with eggplant over the pasta and gently toss to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Serve topped with grated ricotta salata cheese, grated Pecorino Romano, and chopped fresh parsley and basil.

Notes

*Ricotta salata is a Sicilian aged ricotta cheese with a hard texture similar to Parmesan and a salty flavor like feta cheese. If you can’t find it, the Greek cheese Mizithra is a great substitute. Don’t use fresh ricotta, which is soft and creamy instead of salty and aged. If you can’t find either, feta cheese has a similar flavor: or you can omit and simply use Pecorino Romano cheese.

  • Category: Main dish
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian
  • Diet: Vegetarian

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes for memorable kitchen moments! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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1 Comment

  1. Pam Peltier says:

    I absolutely love Pasta Alla Norma and your other eggplant recipes. I have a problem with your Prep time of 5 min. It took me 15 minutes just to peel and chop the eggplant and 15 minutes to mince the garlic cloves, then there’s the time to wash and chop the parsley and basil. I’m not sure anyone could have done all that in 5 minutes. I had added time because I used all fresh ingredients and it takes time to prep fresh tomatoes and harvest the herbs. Also, I’m 74, older and slower. It also takes longer than 25 minutes to cook, if you follow the recipe. All else aside, I do enjoy your recipes and just felt maybe two of you are faster than one of me. Thanks again for your efforts for the less culinary creative. Pam