This Sicilian eggplant pasta sauce (traditionally served with penne pasta) is an homage to the beautiful Italian opera by Vincenzo Bellini: La Norma!
The Norma Pasta (Pasta alla Norma) is is made with fried eggplant and is famously topped with salted ricotta—a hard ricotta cheese that can be grated and is available in most Italian or fine cheese shops.
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Learn how to make this Sicilian Eggplant Pasta Sauce with Penne in this video recipe, filmed in Italy:
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Tips for Making Pasta alla Norma
Traditionally, the Sicilian eggplant pasta sauce is made with fresh tomatoes. Don’t want to make the tomato sauce from scratch? You can follow the instructions to make the sauce fresh instead with the same quantity of whole canned tomatoes. If you are using canned whole tomatoes instead of fresh, cut the tomatoes open and remove the seeds.
Or, use 1 cup (250 ml) of the sweetest tomato purée you can find. Simmer the purée for 20 minutes with the sautéed garlic and fresh basil. There is no need to reduce the sauce.
Making the Fresh Tomato Sauce
Prepare the Tomatoes
The Norma Pasta sauce is made with…
- grape (or cherry) tomatoes
- roma (or piccadilly) tomatoes
- vine tomatoes
If possible, we recommend using fresh whole tomatoes to make the sauce for this dish. To remove the skins of the vine and roma tomatoes, score both sides of each tomato or make an ‘X’ across the bottom. To score, just make a shallow cut with a knife.
Bring a pot of unsalted water to a boil. Add the tomatoes for a minute—two at most. Then transfer the tomatoes to a bath of cold water and peel the tomatoes.
Cut the tomatoes in quarters and set them aside. Remove the seeds now —or later with a strainer.
Cut the grape (or cherry) tomatoes in half lengthwise. Set them aside as well.
Make the Tomato Sauce
Cover the bottom of a large skillet with several tablespoons of olive oil. Over low heat, sauté the garlic. When the garlic begins to turn color, add all of the tomatoes.
Add a pinch of salt and 2 leaves of fresh basil. Give the tomatoes stir. Then cover and simmer the tomatoes for 30 minutes.
After the 30 minutes, blend everything (garlic, oil, tomatoes, basil) to a smooth puree. Use an immersion blender if you have one.
Strain the sauce to remove any seeds or skin that remain. Simmer the sauce again until it has reduced by half. Salt to taste and set the sauce aside.
A bitter eggplant will ruin an otherwise delicious dish. Be sure to taste your eggplant before cooking with it, to be sure it’s not too bitter. To play safe, you can use a potato peeler to peel the skin off the eggplants—this will help reduce bitterness.
There are many methods (that vary in effectiveness) for removing the bitter taste from eggplants. It’s better to avoid the problem altogether by choosing a reliably sweet variety.
In Italy today, bright purple round eggplants are most often used due to their lack of bitterness. If you can’t find these eggplants—sometimes called ‘Italian eggplants’ in groceries—substitute with Japanese eggplants. We recommend avoiding the oblong, dark purple eggplants.
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Sicilian Eggplant Pasta Sauce with Penne – Pasta alla Norma
- 1 cup tomato purée
- 5 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 leaves basil
- 1 pinch fine salt or to taste
- 2 lb eggplant bright round purple or 'japanese' eggplants are best- avoid dark oblong
- oil for frying as needed; peanut or similar
- 11 oz rigatoni pasta or another tube pasta
- 30 g hard salted ricotta cheese or to taste (very salty!)
Make the Tomato Sauce
- Cover the bottom of a large skillet with several tablespoons of olive oil. Over low heat, sauté the garlic. When the garlic begins to turn color, add the tomato purée. (See the article for instructions on making the tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes!
- Add a pinch of salt and 2 leaves of fresh basil. Cover and simmer the tomatoes for 30 minutes.
- After the 30 minutes, blend everything (garlic, oil, tomatoes, basil) to a smooth puree. Use an immersion blender if you have one. Salt to taste and set the sauce aside.
Fry the Eggplant
- Dice the eggplants.
- Deep fry the diced eggplant at 300° F (150° C) for about 4 minutes.
- Remove the eggplant and transfer them to an absorbent towel.
Finish with Pasta
- Cook the tube pasta to ‘al dente’ (in salted boiling water) according to package instructions.
- In the meantime, heat the tomato sauce (along with 1/4 cup of filtered water) in a large skillet.
- Add the diced fried eggplant to the tomato sauce. Stir to combine and simmer until the pasta is cooked.
- Add the drained, cooked pasta to the warm tomato sauce and stir to combine.
- Top with a sprinkle of grated salted ricotta cheese. Buon appetito!