A staple in the Sicilian diet, especially popular during summer when red ripe tomatoes are at their best and fresh eggplants arrive daily at markets.
Growing up, this dish was one that my Nonna would make for me regularly after school. I love making this for dinner after a long day as it’s simple, yet extremely tasty and rich in history. Eating this dish out will cost you no less than $25. Here, I’ve recreated this authentic Sicilian home-cooked meal for under $20.
Dating back to C19th Italy, we see a nation deeply divided by economic performance and living standards. Southern Italy fared far worse than the North. For most Southerners, food was ‘cucina povera’ meaning ‘poor food’. The rise of fascism after WW1 meant that you ate whatever you could grow or trade locally. Famine made tomatoes, once considered poisonous, and pasta “the enemy food”, the two staples of Southern Italian cooking.
This dish originated in Catania where the lively Etna volcano lies. Sicily is known for the volcanic richness of its soil which contributes to its abundant, fresh produce. Originally introduced into Sicily by the Arabs, eggplants became the ‘Southern meat’.
What distinguishes this dish across Italy is the type of cheese used. Some prefer the strong caciocavallo cheese however in Sicily, it is traditionally made with ricotta salata. It is a pressed, salted and dried form of ricotta cheese. Here in Melbourne, I’ve seen this dish served with parmesan… a big no no!
The shape of the pasta used also varies, however in Sicily penne or rigatoni is most popular as the tubular shape traps the beautiful, sweet sauce inside. Gnocchi or ravioli is an alternative, however, penne is my recommendation. During the week, if I don’t have time to make fresh pasta, then I opt for dried imported Italian pasta from my favourite local store, Enoteca Sileno.
In all, other “Italian’’ dishes can be subsumed into a general narrative of nation rather than region (pizza, we’re looking at you) but Sicilian food retains a clear identity. Pasta alla Norma is an emblem of Sicilian culinary tradition; an ode to simplicity.
Now, if you’ll excuse me while I go help myself to another serve…
Pasta alla Norma (serves 2)
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 25 mins
- 1/2 pack Penne pasta
- 1/2 large eggplant
- Extra virgin olive oil (frying)
- Grated Cheese
- 2 tablespoons Ricotta Salata
- 1 cup crushed peeled tomatoes
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 Clove garlic
- Salt & Pepper
- Cut the eggplant into round thin slices. Do not remove the peel.
- Heat the EV oil then fry the eggplant rounds until golden. Once finished remove excess oil with paper towel and allow eggplants to rest.
- In a saucepan add EV olive oil and chopped garlic.
- Once the garlic turns blonde add the crushed tomatoes and the basil. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Cook for 15 minutes.
- Cut the fried eggplants into strips about 1 inch wide and add to the sauce.
Pasta Alla Norma
- Cook for an additional 10 mins. Cook the rigatoni in boiling water with salt. Raise the pasta ‘al dente’ and toss into the tomato sauce. Mix well.
- Add the fried eggplants ontop and a generous amount of grated ricotta salata and garnish with some basil leaves.
- Serve immediately.