Pasta alla Norma is a classic Sicilian pasta dish with rich and creamy tomato sauce, tender roasted eggplants, and fresh basil.
You'll love this recipe because it's tasty, healthy, easy to make in about 30 minutes, and with simple ingredients.
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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.
Try it, and you'll see why. This dish represents the essence of Mediterranean cuisine.
While eggplant pasta was already widespread in southern 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 fried eggplant, ripe Sicilian tomatoes, and ricotta salata, a hard and salty ricotta cheese hard to find outside of Italy.
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.
For vegans, you can easily leave out the cheese or use vegan cheese. For vegetarians and others, you can replace the ricotta salata with 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 pasta, but to be honest with you, this sauce goes well with any pasta shape.
You can use globe or 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 fresh and rich sauce 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 highly seasonal. So we recommend sticking to canned tomatoes for the best results.
Extra virgin olive oil is best. 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 adding a pinch of red pepper flakes for heat. If you don't have dried oregano, 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.
Ricotta salata is a salty hard Sicilian ricotta cheese.
It's traditionally grated on top of pasta alla norma. However, since ricotta salad might be hard to find outside Italy, you can substitute crumbled or grated feta, grated pecorino romano, or parmesan cheese for ricotta salata.
If you are vegan, you can keep the cheese out. This eggplant pasta recipe is delicious without it.
1. Roast the eggplants
Preheat the oven to 430°F or 220°C. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Wash and dry the eggplants, remove the stem, and slice them into 1-inch cubes (2.5 cm).
Arrange the diced eggplants 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 for 20 minutes, flip with a spatula, and roast for 5 more minutes. While the eggplants roast, make the tomato sauce.
Tip: You can also roast eggplants in the air fryer.
2. Make the pasta sauce
Warm up the olive oil in a large skillet, add finely chopped onion, and fry it for 3 minutes.
Add pressed or grated garlic, red pepper flakes, and fry for another minute.
Add canned whole peeled tomatoes, rinse the can with a cup of water, and add it to the pan.
Season with salt, pepper, and dried oregano, then crush the tomatoes with a fork and simmer on medium heat until the eggplants are ready (about 20 minutes). Stir occasionally.
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.
3. Add the pasta
While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta al dente in a large pot of salted boiling water, then reserve one cup of pasta cooking water before draining the pasta.
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 fresh basil and a drizzle of good-quality extra-virgin olive oil.
Optionally, add a sprinkle of freshly grated ricotta salata (per tradition), crumbled feta cheese, grated pecorino romano, or parmesan cheese.
How to cook pasta to perfection?
You'll need a large pot of salted water as follows:
- 8 ounces of pasta (230 grams): cook pasta in 2 quarts of boiling water (8 cups or 2 Liters) with 1 tablespoon of salt (15 grams). Serves 2 - 3 people.
- 12 ounces of pasta (340 grams): cook pasta in 3 quarts of boiling water (12 cups or 3 Liters) with 1 ½ tablespoons of salt (21 grams). Serves 4 people.
- 1 pound of pasta (450 grams): cook pasta in 1 gallon of boiling water (16 cups or 4 Liters) with 2 tablespoons of salt (30 grams). Serves 5-6 people.
How much pasta per person?
- 3.5 ounces (100 grams) per person if the main meal;
- 2.8/3 ounces (80/90 grams) per person if part of a 2 - 3 course meal;
- 2/2.5 ounces (60/70 grams) per person if part of a 3+ course meal.
Pasta alla norma is a nutritious and fulfilling main dish. We would recommend siding it with a light salad such as:
Make ahead: eggplant pasta is best eaten right after making it, and we don't recommend making it in advance.
Refrigerator: keep 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.
Freezing: we do not recommend freezing pasta alla norma.
More Eggplant Recipes
Get more easy and wholesome recipe ideas with these family-friendly eggplant meals:
- Eggplant and yogurt dip (Greek or dairy-free yogurt, eggplant, lemon, pine nuts, etc.)
- Breaded eggplant (breadcrumbs, eggplant, garlic powder, Italian herbs, etc.)
- Stuffed eggplant (cherry tomatoes, pesto, eggplant, cheese or vegan cheese, etc.)
- Eggplant curry (roasted eggplant, chickpeas, curry, turmeric, garlic, coconut milk, etc.)
More Pasta Recipes
If you like this Pasta alla Norma, you'll love these delicious pasta ideas. They make a nutritious and tasty dinner:
- Tomato and basil pasta (canned tomatoes, spaghetti, fresh basil, onion, garlic, etc.)
- Spaghetti aglio e olio (spaghetti, garlic, parsley, red pepper flakes, olive oil, etc.)
- Pasta Puttanesca (capers, parsley, canned tomatoes, garlic, spaghetti, etc.)
- Artichoke pasta (olives, pine nuts, mint, pasta, jarred artichokes, lemon, etc.)
- Lemon pasta with spinach (spaghetti, garlic, parmesan cheese, lemon, etc.)
- Penne arrabbiata (penne pasta, canned tomatoes, red pepper flakes, onion, etc.)
For many more pasta ideas, check out our pasta category page.
Pasta alla Norma (Eggplant Pasta)
- 12 ounces 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 or 800 g) whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 10 leaves fresh basil
- 1 handful ricotta salata grated. Sub parmesan, pecorino, feta, or vegan cheese.
1. ROAST THE EGGPLANTS
- Preheat oven to 430°F or 220°C. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Wash and dry 2 medium eggplants, remove stem, and slice them into 1-inch cubes (2.5 cm).
- Arrange diced eggplants on baking tray on a single layer, and toss with 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, ⅓ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper.
- Roast for 20 minutes, flip with a spatula, and roast 5 more minutes. While the eggplants roast, make the tomato sauce.
2. MAKE THE PASTA SAUCE
- Warm up 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet, add 1 medium onion (finely chopped), and fry it for 3 minutes.Add 2 cloves garlic (pressed or grated), ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, and fry for another minute.
- Add 1 can (28 oz or 800 g) whole peeled tomatoes, rinse the can with 1 cup water, and add it to the pan.Season with 1 teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, and 1 teaspoon dried oregano, then crush tomatoes with a fork and simmer on medium heat until the eggplants are ready (about 20 minutes). Stir occasionally.
- Add roasted eggplant and 10 leaves fresh basil to the tomato sauce.Stir and cook for two more minutes on medium-low heat, then taste and adjust for salt.
3. ADD THE PASTA
- Cook 12 ounces rigatoni pasta al dente in a large pot of salted boiling water. Reserve one cup of pasta cooking water.Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce, add one ladleful of reserved pasta water, turn the heat on again, and toss the pasta with the sauce for 1 minute. Add more pasta water if required.
- Serve with fresh basil and a drizzle of good-quality extra-virgin olive oil.Optionally, add a sprinkle of freshly grated ricotta salata. Or use crumbled feta, pecorino Romano, parmesan cheese, or non-dairy cheese.
- Rigatoni pasta: you can use any pasta.
- Canned whole peeled tomatoes: sub crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato puree, or fresh ripe tomatoes.
- Basil: sub fresh parsley.
- Ricotta salata: sub crumbled feta, grated parmesan, pecorino, or non-dairy cheese.