We’re going back to Sicily! Pasta alla Norma is a delicious Sicilian pasta dish with eggplant, marinara and basil. I’m excited to introduce you to this dish because it is a completely satisfying vegetarian dinner. If you enjoy eggplant Parmesan, you’re going to love pasta alla Norma. I’m craving a bowl as I type.
Most pasta alla Norma recipes are made with fried eggplant, but this recipe features roasted eggplant. Eggplant really absorbs oil like a sponge, so this lightens up the dish. Another plus? Roasting eggplant is easier and less messy.
I further lightened this classic recipe by using more eggplant and less pasta, so this dish won’t put you to sleep. It’s nice and saucy, just the way I like it.
I don’t speak Italian, so I first assumed that “norma” meant eggplant. Not the case! Norma is capitalized because she’s a lady. Or an opera, depending on how you look at it.
Here’s the backstory: Pasta alla Norma comes from Catania, a city on the eastern coast of Sicily. Catania is the hometown of Vincenzo Bellini, an Italian opera composer who lived in the early 1800s. One of Bellini’s most famous operas, Norma, is named after its lead character.
Folklore has it that playwright Nino Martoglio, after his first bite of this pasta dish, exclaimed, “Chista è ‘na vera Norma!” (“This is a true Norma!”) That’s quite a compliment.
Watch How to Make Pasta alla Norma
Pasta alla Norma Ingredients
Pasta alla Norma is proof that simple ingredients can yield spectacular results. This classic Italian dish is especially appropriate in late summer or early fall when eggplant is in season. It’s so hearty that I’ll be enjoying it through the winter.
You really can’t beat my Super Simple Marinara Sauce, which comes together with minimal fuss. It’ll be ready around the time the eggplant is done roasting, and yields exactly the amount of sauce you’ll need for this dish (two cups). If you’d like to simplify the recipe, you could use a good store-bought marinara. My favorite is Rao’s.
Look for two medium eggplants with firm, shiny skin and no bruises. They should feel heavy for their size. We won’t bother salting the eggplant before roasting—it’s truly unnecessary with modern eggplants.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Any quality extra-virgin olive oil will do. Use an Italian variety if you want to be as authentic as possible.
Use rigatoni, ziti, spaghetti, or any pasta along those lines. You’ll see rigatoni in these photos, but I’ve also really enjoyed spaghetti.
Basil livens up this saucy meal. We’ll use a pretty generous amount, about 1/2 cup or an entire small store-bought container. It’s worth it.
A Few Basic Spices
Freshly ground black pepper, dried oregano and red pepper flakes round out the flavors in this dish. If you’re sensitive to spice, go light on the red pepper flakes or omit them entirely.
True pasta alla Norma is made with aged ricotta salata, which is difficult to find in the United States. For something fairly similar, try equal parts store-bought ricotta salata and Parmesan. Other suggestions I’ve found online include Grana Padano or mature Pecorino Romano (with or without some crumbled feta). All that said, I don’t think you could go wrong with mozzarella. Some recipes also include dollops of ricotta, which would surely be tasty.
If you’re following a dairy-free or vegan diet, I believe you’ll still love this dish without cheese. Or, you could finish your bowls with a sprinkle of vegan Parmesan and perhaps even a dollop of vegan sour cream in place of ricotta.
How to Make Pasta alla Norma
This recipe is simple enough to pull off on a weeknight if you start an hour before dinnertime. It calls for a few simple components and you’ll get the hang of it quickly. Pour yourself a glass of Italian red wine, perhaps a Sangiovese, and make the most of it!
You’ll find the full recipe below, but here’s the gist:
1) Start the marinara sauce.
That is, assuming you’re going the homemade route. You really won’t believe how quickly my marinara comes together!
2) Prepare and roast the eggplant.
We’re going to follow Ottolenghi’s lead here and use a vegetable peeler to shave off strips of eggplant peel to make it look rather zebra-like. This way, you still get some of the nice texture of the eggplant skin, but you don’t end up with distracting long strips of it in your finished dish (the eggplant tends to fall apart in the sauce, in a good way). Then, we’ll slice the eggplant into rounds, brush them with oil, and roast them until deeply golden.
3) Cook the pasta in salted water.
Salting the water infuses your pasta with more flavor. Try to remember to reserve some of the pasta cooking water before draining it—the starch in the water helps unite the sauce with the pasta. I typically scoop some into a Pyrex glass measuring cup just before draining. (If you forget, as I often do, no worries.)
4) Stir it all together.
This is when we add the fresh basil, most of the cheese (reserve some for garnish), and some spices. Add salt to taste, and your meal is ready to serve. Buon appetito.
More Eggplant Recipes to Enjoy
- Baba Ganoush
- Caponata (also from Sicily)
- Eggplant Parmesan
- Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with Roasted Summer Vegetables
- Roasted Eggplant & Tomato Orzo Pasta
As always, please let me know how your pasta alla Norma turns out in the comments! I love hearing from you. If you’re hungry for more pasta dishes, I’ve got you covered.
Pasta alla Norma
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 50 minutes
- Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
- Yield: 4 servings 1x
- Category: Entree
- Method: Roasted and stovetop
- Cuisine: Sicilian
- Diet: Vegetarian
Pasta alla Norma is a delicious Sicilian pasta dish with eggplant, marinara and basil. This amazing recipe features roasted eggplant, not fried! Recipe yields 4 entrée servings.
- 1 batch Super Simple Marinara Sauce, or 2 cups (16 ounces) store-bought marinara
- 2 medium eggplants (about 2 ¼ pounds total)
- ¼ cup + 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon fine salt, more to taste
- 8 ounces rigatoni, ziti or spaghetti
- ½ cup chopped fresh basil, plus a handful more small basil leaves or torn leaves for garnish
- ½ to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ¾ cup (1.5 ounces) finely grated ricotta salata and/or Parmesan cheese
- If making your own marinara: Cook the sauce per instructions. If it’s done cooking before you’re ready to assemble, cover the pot and keep it warm over very low heat. If you’re using store-bought marinara, warm it in a pot over medium-low heat while you cook the pasta.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit with racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line two large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper for easy cleanup.
- Use a vegetable peeler to shave off long alternating strips of eggplant peel. The eggplants will look striped like zebras when you’re done. Then slice the eggplants into ½-inch thick rounds, discarding the end pieces.
- Place the eggplant on the lined baking sheets. Brush the rounds with olive oil on both sides. Sprinkle the eggplant with the salt and plenty of pepper. Roast until deeply golden and tender, about 35 to 45 minutes, flipping after 20 minutes. Set aside.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta until al dente, according to package directions. Reserve some pasta cooking water before draining (about ½ cup should be plenty), then return the pasta to the pot.
- When the eggplant is done and the marinara is finished cooking (or warmed through, if using store-bought), gently stir the roasted eggplant into the sauce. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil, fresh basil, red pepper flakes (skip if you don’t like spice, or load it up if you do). Crush the dried oregano between your fingers as you drop it in.
- Add the pasta to the sauce with a couple tablespoons of the reserved pasta cooking water, and gently stir it in. Add about two-thirds of the cheese, reserving the rest for garnish. Season to taste with additional salt (I usually add ¼ teaspoon more) and black pepper. You can add a bit more of the reserved pasta cooking water to loosen up the sauce, if desired.
- Divide the pasta between four bowls. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the individual servings, followed by some extra fresh basil. For added richness, drizzle the servings lightly with olive oil. Enjoy! Leftover pasta will keep well in the refrigerator, covered, for 4 to 5 days.
Recipe roughly adapted from Ottolenghi Simple (a cookbook, affiliate link) and my eggplant Parmesan.
Make it gluten free: This dish would likely be nice with sturdy gluten-free noodles, such as a corn and quinoa blend.
Make it dairy free/vegan: Omit the cheese (this pasta is still very nice without it). You could sprinkle individual servings with vegan Parmesan. You might enjoy a dollop of vegan sour cream for some creaminess, too.
Parmesan note: Whole Foods 365 and BelGioioso brands offer vegetarian Parmesan cheese.
Neil & Bhavini
Yet another masterpiece!!! What a fantastic recipe. Can’t even begin to describe how much our family enjoyed this. We finished off the dish with dollops of ricotta as you suggested. Truly magnificent!
The next time I make this, I will make sure to cut the eggplant slices a little thicker. A few slices burned in the oven, but that might be because I cut them too thin, I presume.
Once again, thank you so much Cookie and Kate for sharing your talent at cooking!!
You’re so sweet! I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Really great! Hubby and I loved it and have leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Very rich and filling and full of flavor. We are dairy free so we used the Trader Joe’s shredded Parmesan and it was *chefs kiss*!
I love to hear that, Alex! Thank you for sharing.
This was a wonderful recipe! My whole family loved it and said it was restaurant quality with my homemade marinara sauce!
Thank you, Holly!
I have tried many recipes on this website and in the Cookie and Kate book. This one is definitely one of my favorites! The homemade sauce suggestion is a must and I will definitely double it next time. The roasted eggplant adds such a delicious flavor profile. I omit the salt and leave out the chili flakes and my toddler absolutely loves it. Thanks!
Great to hear, Ashley! I appreciate you taking the time to provide feedback.
OMG — made this tonight en famille with native/freshly picked eggplant (which I grilled) and basil. So good.
What an outstanding meal! I love your roasted eggplant parmigiana, and this is even easier.
Thank you, Amy!
The eggplant is in the oven as I write this, and I can’t wait to eat it! I’ve made almost every recipe in your cookbook, and your website is absolutely my go-to for predictably delicious vegetarian meals. I probably should have halved this recipe as I live alone. Any chance I can freeze some of it?
Thank you, Sharon! I’m so happy to hear you have enjoyed so many of my recipes.
This is delicious! I’ve been making it as a baked pasta dish by cooking the noodles only part way, mixing them with the finished sauce and then layering it in a medium-sized baking dish with pieces of an entire ball of fresh mozzarella (instead of the ricotta or parmesan) throughout the dish. I used 12 oz of rigatoni instead of 8. I cook it for about 15-20 minutes in the oven and it comes out perfectly.
Also, I don’t always do this, but our summer garden contributed the tomatoes, basil, and parsley for my homemade sauce tonight. It was delicious and fun to use what we grew.
Thank you for sharing! I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Loved the Sugo ala Norma and already making it a second time!
I love to hear that, Sharon! I appreciate your review.
This recipe is super yummy! Even my two years olds loved it. The only thing I’d recommend is going 10 minutes less on the eggplant if you want some nice chunks in there. I did the full cook time and all the eggplant dissolved in the sauce, which wasn’t a bad thing, I’d just prefer some chunks left over. Is this something that freezes well?
Hi Dee, I wouldn’t recommend freezing this one. Sorry!
Made this for a meatless Monday. It was delicious. Recipe was easy to follow. I only used 1/2 tsp of pepper flakes but will reduce it to 1/4 tsp.
I’m happy you enjoyed it, Cheryl! I appreciate your review.
This was delicious! Turns out I can’t read a recipe and skinned all of the eggplants and it was still delicious! My husband normally doesn’t care for the texture of eggplant but he loved this dish! Thank you!
You’re welcome, Coryanne! I’m delighted you enjoyed it.
What a perfect simple meal that came together in no time! My family loved this recipe and they asked could it be placed in the regular rotation.
My 2nd time making this and both times a winner! getting the eggplant sliced uniformly is the key though but its quite straight forward.
This was delicious! My husband and son both loved it.
That’s great to hear, Jenette! I appreciate your review.
I love your Pasta alla Norma recipe. Thank you! I, like other followers of yours, want to freeze this for a future meal. I see that you don’t recommend freezing it. What if one just froze the sauce? Or is there something about the sauce that wouldn’t freeze well too?
You could try it, Dana. Let me know what you think.
Nice one! I found ricotta salata at Whole Foods. Had something else occupying the oven, so I cooked down the eggplant on the stove. Tasty!
Mary Klein Piltch
This recipe is amazing! The simple marinara sauce is so easy and tasty too! Grazie !