Pasta with Eggplant and Ricotta Salata (Pasta alla Norma)
This is a simple, delicious dish that combines pasta with eggplant, tomato sauce, fresh basil and ricotta salata.
Called Pasta alla Norma in Italy, it was named for the opera “Norma” written by Sicilian native Vincenzo Bellini.
Our version of this popular dish cuts some of the fat and saves a little prep time by oven-roasting the eggplant instead of using the more traditional method of pan frying.
About Ricotta Salata
We're all familiar with the moist, slightly sweet, creamy flavor of ricotta cheese, but not everyone has had the opportunity to try ricotta salata.
The word salata means salty, and ricotta salata is fresh ricotta cheese that has been salted, pressed and aged for a few months to produce a cheese that crumbles easily and has a slightly nutty flavor. It's similar to feta, but definitely not as salty.
- 10 ounces rigatoni (or other ridged tubular pasta)
- 1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 cup onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
- 3 cups (28 ounce can) diced tomatoes, undrained
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 ounces ricotta salata, crumbled (see notes)
- 4 tablespoons chiffonade of fresh basil, divided
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Romano or Parmesan cheese for grating
- Preheat the oven to 425°F and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.
- Place the eggplant cubes in a large bowl. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine and spread the mixture over the 2 lined baking sheets.
- Roast the eggplant for 12 to 15 minutes, or until it's tender and golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside.
- While the eggplant roasts, heat the remaining olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking until soft and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes longer.
- Add the tomatoes and bring the mixture to a slow simmer. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for an additional 20 minutes.
- Remove the sauce from the heat, add all but 1 tablespoon of the basil (reserving the remaining tablespoon for garnish) and stir in the roasted eggplant. Cover to keep warm.
- Cook and drain the pasta according to the package directions then return it to the pot, add the sauce and the ricotta salata. Toss gently to combine.
- To serve, divide the pasta between 4 serving bowls, top with grated Romano cheese, a sprinkling of fresh basil and a little freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.
About Ricotta Salata:
Ricotta salata is an Italian cheese that's pressed, salted and aged for a minimum of 90 days. Similar to Greek feta (an acceptable substitute), ricotta salata can be grated, crumbled or sliced.