Pasta alla Norma Ingredients
Pasta alla Norma is proof that simple ingredients can yield spectacular results. This classic Italian dish is especially appropriate in late summer or early fall when eggplant is in season. It’s so hearty that I’ll be enjoying it through the winter.
You really can’t beat my Super Simple Marinara Sauce , which comes together with minimal fuss. It’ll be ready around the time the eggplant is done roasting, and yields exactly the amount of sauce you’ll need for this dish (two cups). If you’d like to simplify the recipe, you could use a good store-bought marinara. My favorite is Rao’s.
Look for two medium eggplants with firm, shiny skin and no bruises. They should feel heavy for their size. We won’t bother salting the eggplant before roasting—it’s truly unnecessary with modern eggplants.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Any quality extra-virgin olive oil will do. Use an Italian variety if you want to be as authentic as possible.
Use rigatoni, ziti, spaghetti, or any pasta along those lines. You’ll see rigatoni in these photos, but I’ve also really enjoyed spaghetti.
Basil livens up this saucy meal. We’ll use a pretty generous amount, about 1/2 cup or an entire small store-bought container. It’s worth it.
A Few Basic Spices
Freshly ground black pepper, dried oregano and red pepper flakes round out the flavors in this dish. If you’re sensitive to spice, go light on the red pepper flakes or omit them entirely.
True pasta alla Norma is made with aged ricotta salata, which is difficult to find in the United States. For something fairly similar, try equal parts store-bought ricotta salata and Parmesan. Other suggestions I’ve found online include Grana Padano or mature Pecorino Romano (with or without some crumbled feta). All that said, I don’t think you could go wrong with mozzarella. Some recipes also include dollops of ricotta, which would surely be tasty.
How to Make Pasta alla Norma
This recipe is simple enough to pull off on a weeknight if you start an hour before dinnertime. It calls for a few simple components and you’ll get the hang of it quickly. Pour yourself a glass of Italian red wine, perhaps a Sangiovese, and make the most of it!
You’ll find the full recipe below, but here’s the gist:
1) Start the marinara sauce.
That is, assuming you’re going the homemade route. You really won’t believe how quickly my marinara comes together!
2) Prepare and roast the eggplant.
We’re going to follow Ottolenghi’s lead here and use a vegetable peeler to shave off strips of eggplant peel to make it look rather zebra-like. This way, you still get some of the nice texture of the eggplant skin, but you don’t end up with distracting long strips of it in your finished dish (the eggplant tends to fall apart in the sauce, in a good way). Then, we’ll slice the eggplant into rounds, brush them with oil, and roast them until deeply golden.
3) Cook the pasta in salted water.
Salting the water infuses your pasta with more flavor. Try to remember to reserve some of the pasta cooking water before draining it—the starch in the water helps unite the sauce with the pasta. I typically scoop some into a Pyrex glass measuring cup just before draining. (If you forget, as I often do, no worries.)
4) Stir it all together.
This is when we add the fresh basil, most of the cheese (reserve some for garnish), and some spices. Add salt to taste, and your meal is ready to serve.