Pasta Alla Norma – it might sound really posh, but it’s actually just eggplant and tomato cooked into a wholesome, tangy sauce and stirred through pasta. Oh, and I added a bit of spice and oozy mozzarella.
*Check out my new recipe index on the menu above! Thanks to the wonderful guys over at EasyIndex, you can now see thumbnails of all my recipes categorised neatly in categories such as mid-week meals, courses, cuisines and special diets. I hope you like it!*
There are times when a simple meal is all you want. Quite a lot of the time, actually. If this wasn’t so, my blog wouldn’t even exist.
Today’s post came about because a simple meal (and I mean REALLY simple) was truly in order.
I spent a good part of Sunday prepping for and the whole of Monday evening making what I thought was going to be a stellar recipe for the blog. Not so. My highly anticipated roasted butternut squash with ricotta and spinach side dish flopped. Big time. According to Mr. Scrummy, who always has a very descriptive opinion on these things, it looked like an omelette ravaged by seagulls.
In fact, I actually wish I hadn’t deleted all my photos in a rage because it would have been kind of fun to show you! (Next time I will … yup, I know there’ll be a next time.)
So, feeling more than a bit peeved about my waste of time and ingredients and lack of something to post this week, I decided to ‘play safe’ and post a super easy pasta dinner. This recipe based on a handed-down-through-the-generations Sicilian recipe called Pasta alla Norma was perfect!
I’ve found that there are a few little keys to a successful tomato-based pasta:
- Use a bit more garlic than you think you need.
- Use whole tinned tomatoes rather than chopped/crushed, as they tend to be better quality – then crush them yourself in the pan as you go.
- Make sure you add plenty of salt and a bit of sugar for sweetness – then taste as you go.
- Add fresh herbs towards the end of cooking.
- Save some of the pasta cooking water and stir it into the dish at the end to loosen everything up and leave the pasta perfectly coated in sauce.
Another ‘key tip’ for this particular dish is to not be shy with the olive oil. You need a good few glugs at the beginning to cook your eggplant cubes. You really don’t want to be eating woolly, undercooked eggplant (believe me, I’ve done it plenty of times!).
Adapt this recipe a bit to your liking, too. Cut out the chili if you like (it isn’t in a traditional Pasta Alla Norma, anyway – I naughtily decided to add it), use ricotta (which IS in the traditional recipe) or pecorino, and use any kind of pasta shapes you like. Just don’t cut out the cheese altogether – I thought the milky, stringy mozzarella was what really made this meal.
I have no idea who Norma is/was, but she has a pretty tasty pasta namesake! (Update: I just read that this dish is actually named after an opera – ‘Norma’ – composed by Sicilian Vicenzo Bellini. Don’t say you never learn anything here. ;-))
Pasta alla norma (eggplant and tomato pasta)
- 4 to 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large eggplant/aubergine cut into small cubes (about 1cm²)
- 3 – 4 garlic cloves crushed or sliced
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed chilis
- 28 ounces whole tomatoes (two cans)
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon heaped sugar
- salt and pepper to taste
- a bunch of fresh basil
- 16 ounces pasta I used a variant of penne, but any medium-sized pasta shapes will do
- 1 ball of mozzarella
- freshly grated parmesan cheese to serve
Heat up the olive oil, then stir in the eggplant, making sure it all gets coated in oil. Let cook, stirring occasionally, for about ten minutes.
Add the garlic and chilis to the pan and cook, stirring, for a couple more minutes.
Add the tomatoes to the pan, then crush and break them up with your wooden spoon. Pour in the balsamic vinegar, then add the sugar and season generously. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until the eggplant is nice and soft.
Stir in most of the basil at the end of the cooking time.
Meanwhile, boil the pasta according to the packet instructions (until al dente is best), then drain, reserving some of the water.
Add the pasta to the sauce and toss until well coated. Add enough of the reserved cooking water to make the dish nice and smooth and ‘saucy’, then rip the mozzarella into the pan and stir again briefly.
Serve out into bowls immediately, topping with grated parmesan and the remaining fresh basil.
It’s really important to check that the eggplant/aubergine is nice and soft before you tip the pasta into the sauce. Undercooked eggplant is nasty!
Use ricotta cheese or pecorino instead of the mozzarella if you like (if you choose pecorino, you won’t need parmesan as well).
It isn’t the end of the world if you use crushed/chopped tomatoes, but whole tomatoes add a bit more ‘quality’ to the dish.
If you like, you can make this into a pasta bake. Just tip the finished pasta and sauce into a baking dish, sprinkle with plenty of parmesan and broil (UK - put under the grill!) until the cheese is bubbling and browned (probably about 4-6 minutes).
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