Pasta alla norma is a traditional Italian pasta with eggplant in a tomato sauce. It’s an excellent, meaty-like but vegetarian main dish that’s everything you want in a pasta – comforting, satisfying, and slurp-worthy good!
Pasta alla norma: Eggplant pasta
When it comes to vegetables-as-the-main, eggplant rates very highly in my books because it’s meaty and easy to prepare. It’s a sponge for flavour, silky and delicious in texture, good value most of the year round and extremely versatile.
This pasta is Sicilian, and as with many traditional Italian eggplant dishes, the slices are traditionally fried in a hefty amount of oil. I prefer roasting the eggplant – it’s healthier, plus the eggplant cubes hold their shape better rather than turning into unidentifiable mush when tossed in the pasta sauce!
I like to make Pasta alla Norma using tomato passata instead of crushed tomatoes because it makes it saucier. I love how the pasta sauce clings to the pasta strands as well as the plump roasted eggplant.
Roasting the eggplant
The key to making Pasta alla Norma well is to cook the eggplant so it’s caramelised on the outside and soft inside, but mostly holds its shape when tossed in the tomato pasta sauce rather than turning into mush.
To do this, you just need salt, pepper and olive oil, and 25 minutes in a hot 240°C / 450°F oven to get some nice colour on the outside of the eggplant as well as creating a crust so the eggplant cubes hold their shape.
I cut the eggplant cubes a little bit smaller than when I roast eggplant cubes to serve as a simple side dish or to use in salads (like this Eggplant Lentil Salad – it’s very, very good!). I find a slightly smaller size is more suitable for pasta – for dispersion and how it eats.
What goes in the eggplant pasta sauce
And here are the other ingredients in Pasta alla Norma. Basil is a key ingredient that really adds a fresh touch to the finished dish but if you don’t have it, don’t worry, I have solutions for you. Read on!
(PS. And no, you don’t have to tie your spaghetti with a ribbon 😂)
- Pasta – any kind will work here except really tiny ones like risoni or those tiny alphabet or other novelty pastas. Traditionally, macaroni is used but these days it’s made with all sorts of pastas – short (like rigatoni, penne, ziti, casarecce) and long (spaghetti, fettuccine, bucatini). I really like serving it with long pasta – especially with the smooth pasta sauce I use in this recipe;
- Tomato passata – aka tomato puree: This is strained, plain, pureed tomato which is thick and smooth, so it’s brilliant for quick pasta sauces. Normal crushed or diced canned tomato will also work but you will need to simmer for around 20 minutes until the tomato starts to break down to create a nice thick pasta sauce. You’ll find passata in the pasta section of regular supermarkets nowadays, and it doesn’t cost much more than canned tomato. More on Tomato Passata here;
- White wine – optional ingredient, just a splash to add extra flavour to the sauce. Good trick for when you are making quick sauces! Any white wine that’s not too sweet or woody will do here. I use sauvignon blanc and pinot gris because that’s what I drink;
- Garlic and onion (or Eschallots) – essential for flavour base for simple pasta sauces, without which the sauce is too bland!
- Italian herb mix or oregano – to add a touch of extra flavour into this quick sauce;
- Chilli flakes – aka red pepper flakes, for a touch of warmth. 100% optional; and
- Basil – as my brother sternly told me, “it’s not Pasta alla Norma without basil!”. Having said that though, I have made it many times using fresh thyme, which goes so well with eggplant. Also you can increase the amount of dried herbs in the pasta sauce instead and it is still 100% delicious. it’s just not true, traditional Pasta alla Norma that’s all!
Here it is with thyme instead of basil. And it’s still absolutely delicious!
How to make Pasta alla Norma pasta sauce
This is a nice quick recipe because we’re using Tomato Passata. It’s already smooth compared with crushed tomato, which needs at least 20 minutes to break down to thicken the sauce.
We start by sautéing the onion and garlic, add the white wine and let it simmer rapidly to cook out the harsh winey smell, leaving behind its tasty flavour base which adds an extra something-something to our pasta sauce!
Then just add the Tomato Passata, dried herbs, salt and pepper and simmer for just 5 minutes. Finally, fold through the roasted eggplant, toss through pasta, throw in some basil and you’re done!
Traditionally in Sicily, Pasta alla Norma is served topped with grated ricotta salata, a firm, salted version of ricotta. However ricotta salata is difficult to source outside of real Italian delis, so I use grated parmesan cheese or pecorino instead.
What to serve with Pasta alla Norma
The other great benefit of this eggplant pasta dish is that it’s loaded with a good amount of vegetables from both the tomato and eggplant, so you really don’t even need to add a side salad to supplement your daily vegetable intake! It really is a complete meal.
However, if you did want to add a side salad, a classic Italian Rocket Salad with Shaved Parmesan would be ideal. The balsamic dressing in that salad really complements the flavour in this pasta. Otherwise, put together your own salad with a Balsamic Vinegar Dressing.
For a big Italian night in, add a side of garlic bread. Or if you want to go all the way, upgrade to Cheesy Garlic Bread and finish with a classic Tiramisu. And don’t forget to invite me over for dinner! 😉 – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
Pasta alla Norma (Eggplant pasta)
- 800g / 1.6 lb eggplant , cut into 2.5cm/1" cubes (2 medium/large ones)
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves , finely minced
- 1/2 small onion , very finely chopped (or 2 eschallots)
- 1/4 cup dry white wine , anything not too sweet or woody (Note 1)
- 700g / 24 oz tomato passata (aka tomato puree, Note 2)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tsp dried Italian herbs or oregano
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes , optional (for a hint of heat)
- 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
- 300g / 10 oz spaghetti or other pasta, long or short (macaroni, rigatoni, penne, ziti, fettucini, bucatini)
- 1/2 cup basil leaves , roughly chopped (Note 3)
- Parmesan cheese , grated (or ricotta salata if you have it – more traditional)
- Preheat oven to 240°C / 450°F (220°C fan). Line a tray with baking / parchment paper.
- Toss eggplant with oil, salt and pepper. Spread on the tray and roast for 20 minutes.
- Flip, then roast for a further 5 minutes. Cool on tray (this helps the eggplant hold its shape when tossing).
- Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Start cooking the pasta a couple of minutes after you start making the sauce (next section), until al dente or to your liking.
- Heat oil in a very large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, cook for 20 seconds until golden, then add onion and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until translucent and cooked through.
- Increase heat to medium-high and add wine, if using. Let it simmer, scraping the base of the pan to deglaze, until the wine mostly evaporates.
- Add tomato passata. Now pour the water into the passata bottle, screw on the lid, shake, and pour that in too (waste nothing!)
- Add dried herbs, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Stir and simmer 5 minutes.
- Stir in eggplant, then add cooked and drained pasta. GENTLY toss until pasta is coated in the sauce (so the eggplant doesn't turn into complete mush!).
- Serve immediately, garnished with a good pinch of fresh basil and parmesan.
- 1 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves – this is really good, it’s my favourite when I don’t have basil!
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme or oregano – extra, added into the sauce
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Not quite the sweet and innocent fluff ball you thought he was, hmm….??
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