The Pasta alla Norma is a recipe typical of Catania, a big city in Sicily. Norma, an Italian female name, is also the title of a particularly beautiful and appreciated opera by the Sicilian composer Vincenzo Bellini. Tradition has it that in the mid-nineteenth century a playwriter from Catania, tasting this sauce for the first time, deemed it to be just as good as the opera by Bellini, and exclaimed: “This is a true Norma!”
The alla Norma sauce combines classic Mediterranean flavours: tomatoes, aubergines and basil, crowned by the intense and pungent taste of aged ricotta. Short pasta fit this sauce the best: maccheroni or penne rigate are the perfect match for a delicious plate of Pasta alla Norma.
Serves: 4 | Preparation time: 10 mins | Cooking time: 40 mins
- Peeled whole plum tomatoes or tomato sauce: 800 g
- Maccheroni: 380 g
- Ricotta salata (aged ricotta): 200 g
- Aubergines (purple variety), medium sized: 2
- Garlic: 2 cloves
- Basil, fresh: 10 leaves
- Extra virgin olive oil: 2 tbsp
- Rock salt: as needed
- Salt and pepper: to taste
Dice the aubergines in small cubes, then put them in a pasta strainer and sprinkle on top the rock salt. Leave them to rest for at least half an hour; the excess water will ooze out, helped by the salt.
Once the aubergine cubes are drained, quickly rinse them to get rid of the salt and dry them again with a kitchen towel. Heat up the olive oil in a pan and stir fry the aubergine cubes, a small quantity at a time, just about enough to brown them. Aubergines tend to absorb a lot of oil, so don’t be afraid to add a tiny bit more if necessary. Once stir-fried, place the cubes on a plate lined with kitchen paper, so the excess oil can be absorbed. Sprinkle the aubergines with a pinch of salt and set them aside.
Peel the garlic cloves. If there is too much oil leftover in the pan you used for the aubergines, throw away most of it; otherwise, use the pan as it is to brown the garlic cloves, and when you’re done remove them from the oil.
Add the peeled tomatoes to the pan, along with the basil leaves. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, stir thoroughly and leave it to cook for at least 20 minutes.
Tip: the Italian secret for a delicious tomato sauce is to counteract the tomatoes’ natural acidity with a pinch of sugar, to be added when seasoning the sauce. A good alternative if you’re on a sugar free diet is a small piece of carrot.
Bring salt water to boil in a pot, pour the pasta and then drain it when it still is al dente, and has a slightly chewy texture. To make sure that your pasta isn’t overcooked, you can simply reduce the cooking time indicated on the package by 1 or 2 minutes.
Combine the pasta, the tomato sauce and the aubergines directly in the serving dishes: this will prevent the aubergines from absorbing the tomato sauce and becoming soggy. Grate some aged ricotta on top and garnish with a fresh basil leaf. Ready!