“Pasta alla Norma” takes you to a sunny magic and charming place: Sicily. Along with Cannoli, it is the culinary symbol of this island.
Fresh tomatoes and plenty of succulent fried eggplant dices enriched by scented basil leaves and grated ricotta cheese: that’s the unique Pasta alla Norma-all the Mediterranean perfumes in one dish!
A triumph of rich and authentic tastes, Sicilian housewives still make this vegetarian dish with simple and genuine ingredients.
Who is Norma?
A famous Sicilian playwright is believed to have shouted out “Chista è na vera Norma” (“This is a true”) or “pari ‘na Norma”, during a dinner at some friends’ house, when first tasted a dish of pasta with tomato sauce, salted ricotta cheese, fried eggplants and basil. He was so impressed by the taste of this dish he clearly wanted to compare it to Bellini’s masterpiece, La Norma, which had been composed in 1831. The secret of the name of this Sicilian succulent recipe has just been revealed.
Choose high quality ingredients:
- Tomato: opt for sweet tomato purée, or very ripe tomatoes.
- Salted ricotta cheese: salted, and possibly from sheep milk, it should not be very aged, but firm. How is it served? You can either toss the tomato sauce, the fried eggplant dices the grated salted ricotta, and garnish with fresh basil leaves, or just put pasta and tomatoes sauce in single serving dishes and top with dices of eggplants and grated cheese: everyone at the table will toss it according to their own tastes.
- Eggplant: Pasta alla Norma wants perfect untouched eggplants, if you were in Italy, you would have to buy the purple black variety from Acireale, called “Turca “(Turkish), or the “Sita” variety, purple and slightly oval.
- Basil: if you grow it in a pot on your terrace, freshly harvested fragrant basil will give your Pasta alla Norma a superb taste.
Draw out the bitter juices!
Eggplants, mainly when they are not perfectly ripe, might leave a bitter after taste, which could spoil your dish.
So, before frying, you should prepare them as follow:
- Remove the stem and the leaves;
- Slice and dice them;
- Place the dices into a strainer in a single layer and put it onto a big plate or directly into the kitchen sink;
- Generously sprinkle with salt; do not worry, it is not too much salt. Salted eggplants can sit purging for long time without harming the taste or texture. It will be totally removed before cooking the eggplants;
- Allow to sit for 30 minutes;
- Rinse off the salt in cold running water;
- Pat dry with paper towel; this is important when frying eggplant dices: if they are not dry, they will absorb too much oil and get indigestible.
A few secrets for a perfect pasta alla Norma:
- Buy untouched fresh eggplants and prepare them in the right way: don’t peel, but just slice or dice them. If they are ripe, they might not need salting. They be be fried (yes they must be properly fried) in plenty of extra virgin olive oil (you are allowed to grill them for a lighter version). Then they must be drained on a paper towel, salted and kept warm;
- Opt only for extra virgin olive oil which doesn’t only enhance the taste of the dish, but also make it healthier and easier to digest;
- Don’t wash the pan after frying the eggplants; it will season the tomatoes puree,
- If you use fresh tomatoes, scold them in plenty of boiling water for a couple of minutes to peel them more easily. Remove the seeds and sauté the tomatoes with little olive oil and a clove of garlic over low heat until softened. Blend the sauce with a hand mixer until smooth;
- The genuine recipe wants only sheep aged salted ricotta cheese, but you may replace it with some cow’s milk ricotta cheese (often you can find it grated in sealed bags at the supermarkets); a more tolerant “school of thought” states that “ricotta al forno” (it is the result of the fresh ricotta being drained, sprinkled with salt and baked in an oven) is by far tastier and “more elegant”. Finally, someone else, just dares to grate pecorino cheese, or even the “northern” parmigiano;
- The very last piece of advice: when you serve it, don’t toss the eggplant dices in the sauce.
The authentic Italian Pasta alla Norma recipe
- 360 gr durum wheat semolina pasta
- 600 gr untouched very ripe tomatoes, or 300g of tomato puree
- 2 purple black eggplants
- 1 glove garlic
- basil leaves
- 150 gr salted ricotta cheese (to grate)
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt (to draw the juices from the eggplants, to cook and season pasta)
- Evenly slice or dice the eggplants;
- Draw their bitter juices out: place them into a strainer with salt for 30 minutes as above described;
- Fry the eggplant dices in plenty of super hot extra virgin olive oil;
- Make sure about the quantity and the temperature of the oil, it should be about 180°C (356°F): if you don’t have a thermometer put a small piece of bread into the oil, if it sizzles, the oil is ready. The eggplant dices must float in the super hot oil: the thermic shock will seal the surface and prevent the food from getting too greasy;
- Drain on a paper towel and keep warm;
- Remove the excess of oil from the pan: make sure there are no burnt remnants of eggplant and leave a little oil;
- Scold the tomatoes in plenty of boiling water for a couple of minutes to peel them more easily. Remove the seeds, coarsely chop and put them into the pan you have used to fry the eggplants. Add the garlic and cook over low heat until tender;
- Remove from the heat; wash, and dry the basil and add it to the tomato sauce;
- Cook pasta in plenty of salted boiling water; follow the cooking time on the package;
- Drain it and put into a serving bowl, add the tomato sauce and toss well;
- Divide it into single serving dishes and top with the eggplant dices (cut into smaller pieces if you have eggplant slices); sprinkle with grated ricotta cheese and add some more basil leaves for a strong Mediterranean taste;
- The typical Sicilian way to serve your Pasta alla Norma: lay some eggplant dices into a shallow bowl, then place some pasta in the shape of a small volcano and pour a little tomato sauce. Top with more eggplants dices and sprinkle with grated ricotta cheese. It vaguely resembles the Etna volcano; the tomato sauce is the lava flow, the white of the cheese is the snow o the top! Well, your Norma is ready to be served…and enjoyed!