Pasta alla Norma is a traditional Italian vegetarian pasta dish that hails from Sicily. Who can resist rich, creamy and crunchy aubergine/eggplant with a deliciously aromatic tomato sauce on a bed of spaghetti.
What is Pasta alla Norma?
This classic Italian vegetarian pasta dish originates in Catania in Sicily where this aubergine/eggplant spaghetti dish was originally called Pasta con le Melanzane (pasta with eggplant/aubergine) but was renamed Pasta alla Norma in honour of the composer Vincenzo Bellini who lived in Catania and composed an opera called ‘Norma’.
It is said that the Italian writer Nino Martogolio cried ‘This is the real ‘Norma’!’ when he tried the dish, meaning it was magnificent like the famous opera.
I love Sicilian food, in fact way back in my misspent youth I lived there for a year teaching English. Here is another classic Sicilian dish for you to try, my Easy Sicilian Caponata/Caponata alla Siciliana recipe.
- Aubergine/eggplant is the star of the show in this pasta alla norma recipe. You can use any type of aubergine that you like for this eggplant spaghetti recipe. I’ve used the standard purple aubergine/eggplant for my pasta alla norma.
- Capers are a traditional Sicilian ingredient. In fact Sicily grows the most amazing capers exported all over the world. They have a salty tangy flavour that cuts through the richness of the tomato sauce in this pasta dish.
- Tomatoes – I’ve used a can of good quality tomatoes. I love those tinned cherry tomatoes you can get in almost any supermarket nowadays. I also use some tomato puree in my spaghetti alla norma sauce.
- White wine is part of the sauce, go Italian if you can of course.
- Garlic – what self-respecting Mediterranean dish would be seen without this amazing ingredient?
- Herbs – Basil and oregano. I have used fresh basil leaves of course for their deliciously peppery almost aniseed like flavour but dried oregano. Ask any Italian or Greek cook and they will always advocate dried oregano as it packs a real punch in flavour.
- Chilli – I’ve used dried chilli flakes for that kick of heat in my spaghetti alla norma recipe.
- Cheese – traditionally you would use grated ricotta salata cheese with spaghetti alla norma. But I’ve gone for simple grated parmesan or pecorino instead as it’s easier to come by.
Cooking with aubergines/eggplants
You want to remove the excess water from the aubergines/eggplants before frying them. All you need to do for this step is to chop the aubergine into 2cm cubes and pop them in a sieve or colander and sprinkle over some salt. Leave them for 20 minutes or so to let the salt pull the moisture out of the eggplant. Rinse them under the cold tap and pat dry with kitchen paper.
Fry the aubergine/eggplant in oil for a few minutes till golden.
Add the garlic to the pan for 2 minutes till golden and aromatic then add the tomatoes, dried oregano and capers. Simmer for about 15 minutes then add the tomato puree and white wine and a bit of salt and pepper to taste. Watch yourself with the salt though as capers are salty little things.
You will obviously be cooking the pasta/spaghetti for your spaghetti alla norma at the same time, (it should take about 8 minutes to cook your spaghetti to get it al dente – cooked but still with a little bite to it) so scoop out about 2 tablespoons of the pasta water and add this to your sauce.
Add the wine, half of your basil torn up and the tomato puree and a bit of parmesan cheese and cook for a further 10 minutes. Also add about 2 tablespoons of the water you cooked the pasta in.
This starch-filled water is great for adding to any pasta sauce as it makes it so silky and smooth.
Serve the spaghetti alla norma with torn basil leaves scattered liberally over the top. A squeeze of lemon juice that really helps to bring out the flavour of the tomatoes and of course grated parmesan/pecorino cheese.
Traditionally pasta alla norma is served with grated ricotta salata cheese, but if you don’t have that then parmesan or pecorino will do just fine.
How to serve this
As spaghetti alla norma has spaghetti, veggies and cheese in it already you really don’t need to serve anything else with it. Some crusty bread to mop up all that luscious tomato sauce and a glass of good Italian red wine would be enough for me.
But if you want some more veggies then go for a simple green salad on the side.
Can you make this ahead?
Yes you can make the sauce a day ahead and warm it up to serve, make sure it is piping hot though.
You can freeze spaghetti alla norma sauce for up to 6 months. Defrost thoroughly and make sure it is hot when serving.
Looking for more fun and easy eggplant/aubergine dishes to try? Then check these out before you go;
Finally, if you do try this recipe don’t forget to leave a comment/star rating below as I just love to hear from readers. Want more Larder Love? Then follow me on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter and sign up for my newsletter too of course.
Spaghetti alla Norma (pasta with aubergine/eggplant in tomato sauce)
- 2 aubergine eggplant
- 400 g tinned tomatoes
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 20 g basil a bunch of fresh basil
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
- 2 tbsp capers
- 100 ml dry white wine
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 1/2 lemon zest
- 2 tbsp parmesan
- salt and pepper to taste
- 400 g spaghetti
- cut the aubergine/eggplant into 2cm cubes and place in a colander with a tsp salt and leave 20 minutes then rinse under cold water and pat dry
- Place oil in pan and fry the aubergine for about 8 minutes then add the garlic for 2 minutes
- Add the tinned tomatoes, dried oregano and capers and cook for 15 minutes then add wine, tomato puree half the cheese and basil and cook for 10 minutes more. Season to taste.
- Cook the spaghetti in boiling water for approx 8 minutes till al dente (cooked but still with a bite to it), drain and add 2 tablespoons of the cooking water to the sauce, stir in then mix the spaghetti with the pasta alla norma sauce
- Serve with lemon zest, the remaining basil and parmesan