Pasta alla norma is a satisfying Sicilian pasta recipe with tender eggplant, herby tomato sauce, and ricotta salata cheese. All the comforting Italian flavors we love in just one pan. This is a vegetarian pasta recipe that even meat lovers will enjoy! (Tips & how-to video below)
Easy Sicilian Pasta with Eggplant
Originally from Catania, a city on the eastern coast of Sicily, Pasta alla Norma is a delicious Sicilian pasta made with tender eggplant and tossed in a herby tomato sauce and a sprinkle of ricotta salata cheese.
This eggplant pasta recipe makes a satisfying vegetarian dinner that even meat lovers enjoy! Most recipes will call for frying or sautéing the eggplant, but I find it easier (and still just as delicious) to use roasted eggplant instead.
Ingredients to make Pasta alla Norma
There are four simple components to this eggplant pasta recipe, and it takes just a few ingredients that are fairly available year-round. Here's what you'll need:
- Eggplant. You'll need two globe eggplants. Select eggplant with deep-colored, shiny skins, and they should be heavy for their size.
- Tomato sauce (marinara sauce). It's easy to make this pasta sauce using extra virgin olive oil, canned diced tomatoes, minced garlic, dried oregano, curshed pepper flakes (if you don't mind a little heat), and a dash of kosher salt and black pepper. (If you keep some homemade spagetti sauce in your fridge, that will work too. Or, if you're too short on time, you can use a quality store-bought marinara sauce instead).
- Pasta. For this recipe I prefer using a short cylindar-shaped pasta like rigatoni with ridges. The gaping center and the ridges will hold on to the tomato sauce, making every bite extra flavorful.
- Finishing touches. A good sprinkle of ricotta salata cheese (which is a salty and more firm than ricotta) and fresh parsley finish this pasta alla norma recipe.
How to cook eggplant for pasta alla norma?
For a traditional pasta alla norma recipe, you'll start by frying the eggplant. Don't get me wrong, I love tender fried eggplant but it does take a bit more work and can be messy.
In this lightened up version, I decided to roast the eggplant slices with a little bit of good extra virgin olive oil. And while the eggplant is roasting, I can make the sauce and get my pasta started.
A high heated oven is best for roasted eggplant (I set mine to 425 degrees F). And it's important to arrange the eggplant slices comfortably on your sheet pan in one single layer (use two sheet pans if needed).
Should you salt eggplant before you cook it?
We've touched on this hotly debated topic before. Salting the eggplant before cooking is an optional step, but I believe it does make a difference in flavoring the eggplant and helping improve its spongy texture.
If you have the time, sprinkle the eggplant slices on both sides with a bit of kosher salt and set them aside on a flat surface for a few minutes (30 minutes or so). Using a paper towel, wipe the eggplant dry and remove excess salt before cooking.
How to make pasta alla norma (step-by-step)
This pasta recipe takes a few simple steps. You'll begin with roasting the eggplant while you work on your red sauce and cook your pasta. Once the eggplant is ready, you'll toss everything together for the perfect vegetarian dinner. Here is the step-by-step for how to make this pasta with eggplant (the print-friendly version is just below) :
- Roast the eggplant
Slice the eggplant into rounds, and if you have the time, sprinkle with salt and allow it a few minutes to "sweat." Wipe dry with a paper towel before roasting. Arrange the eggplant slices directly on a lightly oiled large sheet pan (or two).
Give the eggplant slices a good brush of extra virgin olive oil and roast in 425 degree heated-oven for 30 minutes (turning over once midway through) until the eggplant is soft and golden brown (yes, you want the eggplant to cook fully until nice and tender and well-colored)
- Make the tomato sauce
You'll need a large deep pan to make the sauce (everything will go in this pan later). Heat a bit of extra virgin olive oil (about 3 tablespoons) until shimmering but not smoking. Cook the garlic and red pepper flakes, tossing regularly over medium-low heat (don't let the garlic burn). Add in the diced tomatoes (canned tomatoes), oregano, salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil, then lower the heat and let it simmer until nice and thick (about 15 minutes or so).
- Cook the pasta
While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta. Rigatoni cooks in salted boiling water in about 1o to 11 minutes (consult the pacakage instructions to cook your pasta to al dante). Be sure not to overcook the pasta, it will have a couple minutes more to cook in the sauce. Drain the pasta but be sure to keep a bit of the pasta water.
- Combine the eggplant, sauce, and pasta
Put it all together! Once the eggplant is roasted, add it in the sauce and let it simmer a little while as the pasta cooks. When the pasta is ready, mix it in with the eggplant and the sauce. Add a little bit of the pasta water to help mix things together. Give everything a good toss and allow a couple of minutes for the pasta to absorb the sauce.
- Finish with ricotta salata and fresh parsley
Add a good sprinkle of salty ricotta salata and a handful of fresh parsley (and for me, I like a little more crushed red pepper flakes for heat).
Serve it with
The great thing about this vegetarian pasta recipe is that it is a great meal by itself, you don't need to add much else to the dinner table. I like to start with a big fresh salad like this white bean salad or a simple lemony arugula salad.
And if you need a fun Italian appetizer, maybe throw in some antipasti skewers!
More eggplant recipes to try
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Pasta alla Norma Recipe
- 2 eggplants (about 2 pounds in total)
- Kosher salt
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 14.5- ounce cans diced tomatoes with their juices
- 1 ½ teaspoon dry oregano
- ¾ pound Rigatoni pasta
- ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
- ½ cup grated Ricotta salata
- Slice and Salt the Eggplant. Trim the eggplant and partially peel them in a striped pattern (zebra pattern). Slice them into ½ inch thick rounds. Season the eggplant slices with kosher salt on both sides and lay them flat for a few minutes (up to 30 minutes if you have the time). Wipe the eggplant dry and remove excess salt using a paper towel.
- Heat the oven to 425 degrees F.
- Roast the eggplant. Brush the bottom of a large sheet pan (or two) with extra virgin olive oil. Arrange the eggplant slices in the pans in one single layer (eggplant slices should not overlap, each should be comfortably touching the bottom of the sheet pan). Roast in the heated oven until deeply golden brown, anywhere from 35 to 40 minutes, turning over mid-way through.
- Make the Sauce. Meanwhile, get going on the sauce. In a large deep pan, heat 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, lower the heat and cook, tossing regularly, until the garlic gains a little bit of color. Add the tomatoes (with their juices), oregano and a good pinch of kosher salt and black pepper. Bring the mixture to a quick boil, then lower the heat and let simmer briefly.
- When ready, add the roasted eggplant to sauce. Let simmer while you cook the pasta.
- Cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to package instructions (mine took about 11 minutes). Drain and combine the pasta with the eggplant and sauce (if needed, add a little bit of the pasta water and toss until the pasta is well-coated). Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Add chopped parsley and grated ricotta salata cheese to finish.
- Salting the eggplant before cooking is an optional step, but I do think it helps its flavor and texture
- Other tomato sauce options: If you keep some homemade spagetti sauce in your fridge, that will work too. Or, if you're too short on time, you can use a quality store-bought marinara sauce instead).
- Make-ahead option: You can prepare the sauce and roast the eggplant one day in advance. Store them in the fridge in separate containers.
- Leftovers & Storage: Store leftover pasta all norma in a tight-lid container in the fridge for 3 days. Warm up over medium heat.
- Visit Our Shop to browse quality Mediterranean ingredients including extra virgin olive oil
*This post first appeared on The Mediterranean Dish in December of 2020 and has been recently updated for readers' benefit.