Pasta alla Norma is a Sicilian pasta dish with origins in Catania, the second largest city in Sicily located on the east coast at the foot of Mount Etna. It was created and named as a tribute to Vincenzo Bellini’s opera “Norma.” This rustic dish is the ultimate comfort food - pasta in a rich tomato sauce containing deep fried eggplant and topped with ricotta salata cheese.
- 2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
- 1/2 medium sweet onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 medium eggplants, cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch cubes
- 1 to 2 cups of olive oil (for deep-frying eggplant)
- 1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes (I used Cento certified San Marzano)
- 2 sprigs fresh basil, plus leaves for garnish
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound of pasta of your choice (e.g., penne, ziti, or spaghetti)
- 1/2 pound ricotta salata, coarsely grated
- Chili flakes, to taste
Step 1: Bring 6 quarts water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons salt.
Step 2: Clean eggplant and cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch cubes. Place cubes in a colander, salt liberally, and drain for about 1 hour. After 1 hour, rinse and dry eggplant thoroughly.
Step 3: While eggplant is draining, in a 12 to 14-inch saute pan, heat the olive oil until smoking. Add the onion and the garlic and cook until soft but not yet browned, about 4 to 5 minutes.
Step 4: Set up a food mill over a large mixing bowl or a pot. Pour canned tomatoes into the food mill and churn to strain seeds. Set aside.
Step 5: Add the sauce and bring to boil, then simmer on medium-low while deep-frying the eggplant. Add fresh basil leaves, salt and pepper to taste.
Step 6: Heat 1 to 2 cups of oil in a deep heavy skillet to 375 degrees Fahrenheit or until 1 kernel of popcorn pops.
Step 7: Fry the eggplant cubes in batches until they are golden brown, and transfer them to paper towels to drain.
Step 8: Add the eggplant to your sauce and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed.
Step 9: Cook the pasta according to the package directions, until al dente. Drain well and pour the hot pasta into the sauté pan with the eggplant mixture. Add ricotta salata and heat through.
Step 10: Garnish with chili flakes and basil leaves. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.