Our pasta alla Norma (eggplant pasta) is a classic Sicilian pasta dish made with a rich and creamy tomato sauce, tender roasted eggplants, and fresh basil.
Learn how to make this delicious eggplant pasta recipe in about 30 minutes with simple pantry ingredients and fresh eggplants.
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In Italy, pasta alla norma is so beloved that the Italians have instituted a national pasta alla norma day, on the 23rd of September, to celebrate its history and tradition.
Have a bite, and you can see why. This dish represents the essence of Mediterranean cuisine.
While eggplant pasta was already widespread around the south of Italy, pasta alla norma became famous in Catania, Sicily, around the 1830s when a local chef made it in honor of famous local composer Vincenzo Bellini and its opera called Norma.
Traditional pasta alla norma uses deep-fried eggplants, ripe Sicilian tomatoes, and ricotta salata, a hard and salty ricotta cheese hard to find outside of Italy.
And while we love the traditional recipe, we make ours with roasted eggplants and canned whole peeled tomatoes (ideally the San Marzano variety) to have an everyday dish that is healthier and easier to make but still Sicilian in essence and flavor.
Note: For vegans, you can easily leave out the cheese, as this pasta dish is plenty tasty without it. For vegetarians and others, you can replace the ricotta salata with a touch of coarsely grated feta cheese, pecorino romano, or parmesan cheese.
Try to use rigatoni pasta, like in the original Pasta alla norma recipe. Good alternatives are ziti, rotini, and penne.
Use globe American eggplants or Italian eggplants. They are the big dark-purple ones that you can find in most grocery stores. They are tender and meaty and ideal for this roasted eggplant pasta.
We use canned whole peeled tomatoes to recreate a sauce that is fresh and rich in a short time. If you can, try to find the San Marzano variety, imported from Italy. We use the same for our marinara sauce, which is very similar to the sauce for this dish.
In the traditional recipe, people use ripe Sicilian tomatoes, but those are hard to find outside of Sicily and are extremely seasonal. So we recommend sticking to canned tomatoes for the best results.
Try to use extra virgin olive oil. It has a richer flavor and better nutrition than regular olive oil.
Onion and Garlic
To add flavor to the tomato sauce. We recommend using fresh onion and fresh garlic cloves.
Herbs and spices
We like to add dried oregano to the tomato sauce to make it even more aromatic. Then towards the end, we add fresh basil leaves.
We also like to add a pinch of red pepper flakes for some heat. If you don't have dried oregano, you can leave it out or replace it with dried or fresh thyme.
Salt and Pepper
This sauce requires salt and black pepper to taste great. You'll also need salt to season the pasta water. We recommend sea salt or kosher salt.
This is optional, and our roasted egplant pasta is also delicious vegan, without the cheese.
Ricotta salata is a salty hard Sicilian ricotta cheese that is hard to find outside Italy. It's traditionally grated on top of pasta alla norma. However, you can substitute crumbled or grated feta, grated pecorino romano, or parmesan cheese for ricotta salata.
Roast the eggplants
Preheat the oven to 430°F or 220°C. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Wash and dry the eggplant, remove the stem, and slice into 1-inch cubes (2.5 cm).
Arrange on the baking tray on a single layer without overlapping, and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and black pepper. Toss to spread seasoning.
Roast eggplant cubes for 20 minutes, flip with a spatula, and roast for 5 to 10 more minutes. While the eggplants roast, make the tomato sauce.
Tip: You can also roast eggplants in the air fryer.
Make the pasta sauce
To a large skillet with short edges (not a tall pot or saucepan), gently fry the finely chopped onion in olive oil for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add finely chopped garlic and red pepper flakes and fry for another minute.
Add canned whole peeled tomatoes, rinse the can with a cup of water, and add that to the pan.
Season with salt, pepper, and dried oregano, crush the tomatoes with a fork and simmer on medium heat until the eggplants are ready (about 20 minutes). Stir occasionally.
Tip: boil the pasta in a large pot of salted water while the sauce simmers. Cook the pasta al dente without overcooking it.
Add the roasted eggplant and fresh basil leaves to the tomato sauce.
Stir and cook for two more minutes on medium-low heat, then taste and adjust for salt. Turn the heat off and wait for the pasta to finish cooking.
Toss the pasta
Drain the pasta when al dente and reserve about 2 cups of pasta cooking water.
Add the pasta to the pan with the sauce, add one ladleful of reserved pasta water, turn the heat on again, and toss the pasta for about a minute until completely coated in the sauce. Add more pasta water if required.
Serve on a plate or in a bowl with some more fresh basil and a drizzle of good-quality extra-virgin olive oil.
For non-vegans, you can add a sprinkle of freshly grated ricotta salata (as per tradition). Alternatively, feta cheese, pecorino romano, or parmesan cheese will do.
Some tips for cooking the pasta to perfection:
- Cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water. The proportions are 1 liter of water for 100 grams of pasta for 10 grams of salt.
In US measurements, that's 1 gallon of water for 1 pound of dry pasta for about 2.5 tablespoons of coarse salt (2 tablespoons fine salt).
- Add salt once the water is boiling. Don't add anything else to the pasta water. There's no need for oil.
- Always save a cup of pasta cooking water, when draining the pasta. You might need to add it to the sauce to make it creamier. Pasta water is packed with the starch leaked from the pasta. The starch helps make a sauce creamier.
- Do not rinse the pasta under cold water unless instructed in the recipe.
Use different vegetables
Try substituting air-fried zucchini or mushrooms for eggplants. These veggies go well with the tomato sauce.
You can even combine roasted eggplants and roasted zucchini. They are delicious together. Try a few capers and olives if you want to add more tang and umami to the sauce. It won't be pasta alla norma, but it'll still taste delicious.
Add a legume
Did you know you can add chickpeas or beans to the tomato sauce to make pasta dishes even more nutritious?
To do so, we recommend adding a can of rinsed chickpeas or a can of pinto beans or cranberry beans to the sauce, together with the canned tomatoes. The legumes will soak up the flavor and make the sauce creamier and more nutritious.
This indulgent eggplant pasta pairs perfectly with bread and fresh veggies. Take your pick at these favorite side dishes for pasta:
- Serve with bread: crostini, tomato bruschetta, or focaccia are all perfect for sopping up sauce leftovers.
- Increase your veggie intake: with a serving of roasted vegetables, such as baked artichoke, roasted zucchini, or baked asparagus.
- Pair with a fresh salad: such as this crunchy fennel salad, a fresh zucchini salad, or shaved brussel sprout salad.
- Add protein: top your pasta with creamy vegan ricotta or homemade vegan parmesan.
For more veggie inspiration, take a look at these 25 flavorful veggie sides.
More pasta recipes
If you like this Pasta alla Norma, you'll love these scrumptious pasta ideas. They all make a vibrant and nutritious dinner:
- Tomato and basil pasta
- Spaghetti aglio e olio
- Creamy mushroom pasta
- Vegan carbonara with tempeh bacon
- Lemon pasta with spinach
- Penne arrabbiata
Or get more ideas from our list of 40 best pasta recipes.
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 48 hours. Warm up the pasta in the microwave for a short minute or on a pan with a tablespoon of olive oil.
We do not recommend freezing pasta alla norma.
For many more pasta ideas, check out our pasta category page.
Pasta alla Norma (Eggplant Pasta)
- 1 pound rigatoni pasta
- 2 medium eggplants
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- ⅓ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 can (28 oz) whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 10 leaves fresh basil
ROAST THE EGGPLANTS
- Preheat oven to 430°F or 220°C. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Wash and dry the eggplant, remove stem, and slice into 1-inch cubes (2.5 cm).
- Arrange on a single layer in baking tray, and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and black pepper. Toss to spread seasoning.
- Roast eggplant cubes for 20 minutes, flip with a spatula, and roast for 5 to 10 more minutes. While the eggplants roast, make the tomato sauce.Tip: You can also roast eggplants in the air fryer.
MAKE THE PASTA SAUCE
- In a large skillet with short edges (not a tall pot or saucepan), gently fry finely chopped onion in olive oil for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.Add finely chopped garlic and red pepper flakes and fry for another minute.
- Add canned whole peeled tomatoes, rinse can with a cup of water, and add to the pan.Season with salt, pepper, and dried oregano, crush the tomatoes with a fork and simmer on medium heat until the eggplants are ready (about 20 minutes). Stir occasionally.Note: while sauce cooks, boil the pasta in a large pot of salted water.
- Add roasted eggplant and fresh basil leaves to the tomato sauce.
TOSS THE PASTA
- Drain the pasta when very al dente and reserve about 2 cups of pasta cooking water.Add the pasta to the pan with the sauce, add one ladleful of reserved pasta water, turn the heat on again, and toss the pasta for about a minute until completely coated in the sauce. Add more pasta water if required.
- Serve with some more fresh basil and a drizzle of good-quality extra-virgin olive oil.For non-vegans, you can add a sprinkle of freshly grated ricotta salata (as per tradition). Alternatively, feta cheese, pecorino romano, or parmesan cheese will do.
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