This dish, one of Sicily's most famous, is named after Bellini's 19th-century opera, Norma, which is widely considered the composer's best achievement. The final—and most essential—touch to Pasta alla Norma is a dusting of salted ricotta (ricotta salata). If you can't find ricotta salata, you can use Parmesan or caciocavallo—but purists will point out that the flavor substitution isn't authentic.
Don't skimp when salting and frying the eggplant—the result is a wonderful sauce with a creamy, melt-in-your-mouth texture. —Emiko
Test Kitchen Notes
If you have some eggplant to use up, why not deep-fry it! That's what this amazing recipe is for, after all. This hearty pasta dish is a Sicilian classic that you may find yourself reaching for on every Meatless Monday. It's a nice alternative to eggplant Parmesan, if that's one of your favorites. With creamy fried eggplant slices, a simple yet savory homemade tomato sauce that comes together in minutes, and the must-have topping of grated ricotta salata (which is made from sheep's milk and is less creamy and a bit more salty than ricotta), your friends and family will be clamoring for more whenever you make this wonderful pasta. If you don't want to deep-fry, you can shallow-fry in a skillet or even roast the eggplant in the oven for a different twist on this recipe. Just be sure not to skip the salting step, as your eggplant can easily get soggy, and you want to draw out as much moisture as possible before cooking.
This recipe is super-generous as well if you want to stray from the go-to preparation. Feeling like a little heat? Throw in some crushed red pepper flakes. Got an onion to use up? Caramelize it before softening the garlic. Fresh parsley may add even more depth of flavor to the basil, or go a little wild and try some mint too. And if tomatoes are in season, lucky you! Finely chop the fresh tomatoes (no need to peel) and use those instead of the canned variety. —The Editors
- Prep time 40 minutes
- Cook time 30 minutes
- Serves 4
large eggplant (or 2 finger eggplants)
Olive oil, for frying
garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
(14-ounce; 400 grams) can chopped tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper
(320 grams) rigatoni, penne, or maccheroncini
(80 grams) grated ricotta salata
8 to 10
basil leaves, torn
- Cut the eggplant into 1/3-inch (1-centimeter) slices. If you're using a large eggplant, you may want to cut these in half too. Sprinkle the salt generously over the eggplant and let sit for at least 30 minutes (but better for up to 2 hours). Rinse the salt off and pat the eggplant slices completely dry with paper towels.
- Into a large, heavy, deep-sided skillet or Dutch oven, pour the oil until it comes about 1 inch up the sides. Heat over medium-high until a deep-fry thermometer registers 375°F. Fry the eggplant, turning once, until golden, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggplant to paper towels to drain the excess oil. Set aside.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoons of the oil. Cook the garlic, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes, until fragrant but not colored. Add the tomatoes (it will spit and sizzle, watch out!) and about 1/2 cup of water; season with salt and pepper. Let simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes. Toward the end of the cook time, stir in the basil and the fried eggplant. Remove from the heat.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a heavy pinch of salt and cook the pasta, stirring occasionally, according to the package directions. Drain the pasta, saving a little of the cooking water if you need to loosen the sauce slightly, and add the pasta to the warm tomato sauce. Toss over low heat until the pasta is well coated. Sprinkle with the cheese.