Perfect Pasta alla Norma

A Sicilian Showcase for Eggplant


Pasta alla Norma, just like pasta con sarde, is an all-time Sicilian classic as it showcases the island's favorite vegetable: eggplant. Similar to the caponata recipe I shared with you not too long ago, this pasta dish also enjoys many interpretations and variations. Some home cooks leave the eggplant in large slices, others prefer a dice; some bake, while others sauté; spaghetti or penne… you get the point.

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A new take an a Sicilian Classic.
I like making pasta alla Norma as a layered baked dish using 1/4-inch eggplant slices. The success of this dish truly relies on the quality of the eggplant. Larger eggplants tend to hold more seeds, which can be bitter, so look for small- to medium-sized eggplants. I also highly recommend making your own bread crumbs because the varying size of each crumb adds a nice salty/crunchy texture while thickening the sauce. Wrap a piece of day-old bread in a kitchen towel and pound with a mallet until the desired size is reached. And, if you cannot find ricotta salata, try a young pecorino.

Lastly, I am including my recipe for a basic tomato sauce that can be used for anything and everything, including this dish. My “secret” ingredient is the addition of, what else? Red wine! This sauce can be refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for 6 months. Please note that this sauce is a bit rustic, so if you prefer a smoother one, proccess it in a food mill on a medium setting.

Pasta alla Norma

Serves 6
2 pounds small to medium eggplant, cut lengthwise into ¼-inch thick slices
salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 tbls extra virgin olive oil
1 cup homemade toasted bread crumbs
1 pound penne
2 cups tomato sauce (see recipe below)
½ cup freshly grated pecorino romano
10 fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
8-ounce piece of ricotta salata for grating

1. Bring water to a boil in a large pot and add a healthy handful of sea salt. Remember, the salted water should taste like the sea.

2. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Working in batches, sauté eggplant slices, turning once, until golden brown on both sides. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.

3. In the same pan, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and place on medium-high heat. Next add bread crumbs and toast in pan until golden brown. Be careful to pay attention to the pan as the bread crumbs can burn quickly. Once toasted, remove from heat, season with salt, and set aside on paper towel to drain.

4. Preheat oven to 375F. Grease a 9 by 12 inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

5. Next add penne to the boiling water for 4-6 minutes; they should still be quite firm (“uber” al dente) as they will continue to cook in the oven. Drain very well, place in a large bowl, and toss with 1 cup of the tomato sauce.

6. Cover the bottom of the baking dish with ¼ cup of the tomato sauce. Top with half the bread crumbs, then add half the pasta. Arrange half of the eggplant slices, overlapping them slightly, on top of the pasta. Pour about ¼ cup of tomato sauce over the eggplant, and top with half of the pecorino and half of the basil. Top with the remaining pasta, arrange the remaining eggplant over the pasta, and pour remaining tomato sauce. Sprinkle with remaining pecorino and basil, and then the remaining bread crumbs. Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil.

7. Bake for 45 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Right before serving, grate ricotta salata over the finished dish and enjoy!

Tomato Sauce

Makes 4 cups
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, cut into ¼ inch dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ medium carrot, finely shredded
1 tbls tomato paste
Two 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
¾ cup “what you would drink” red wine, preferably Italian and NOT aged in oak
1 tbls dried marjoram
salt and pepper, to season

1. In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until soft and golden, about 8 minutes. 

2. Next add the carrot and tomato paste and cook until the carrot is soft, about 5 minutes.

3. Now add the tomatoes, with their juice, and the wine and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat, add the marjoram and simmer until thick, about 30 minutes. 

4. Season with salt and pepper.

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: rolifingers
    Hand of Snooth
    434970 415

    I'm definitely going to prepare this dish.

    Oct 15, 2010 at 1:43 PM

  • My Mom and I have been trying many versions of this dish after being introduced to it at Villa Igiea (now a Hilton) in Palermo. If this is as authentic and delicious as Magda's caponata, it will become a new family favorite!

    Oct 15, 2010 at 2:35 PM

  • Snooth User: mawells
    506033 16

    had 'pizza alla norma' when we were on the island of Stromboli last summer -- then had the pasta alla norma the next night -- delicious -- have not found it in the states, though I long for it as it was so tasty. thanks for the recipe!

    Oct 15, 2010 at 2:58 PM

  • I love your recipes. Do you have a favorite authentic Italian cookbook that you would recommend? Thank you!

    Oct 15, 2010 at 4:30 PM

  • Snooth User: Tim 2010
    223186 84

    Yummy! Just be sure the eggplant is ripe and not spongy.

    Oct 15, 2010 at 6:38 PM

  • Snooth User: watsonike1
    267801 11

    One question: why "not aged in oak"?

    Oct 16, 2010 at 6:55 AM

  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
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    Just had Pasta alla Norma a few days ago due to a craving. Good timing. We used to make a good version at T.H.O.R. but with a crumbling of Ricotta Salata, instead of grating it. The stuff breaks apart so easy.

    Oct 16, 2010 at 7:45 AM

  • Snooth User: MGagliano
    556011 10

    Just wanted to address your questions:

    I love all cookbooks but I have found the most authentic ones to be: "Naples at Table" by Arthur Schwartz and anything by Marcella Hazan. Apicius is a great read and an informative trip down food history lane.

    As for oak aged wine - taste it first, if it taste/smells like oak then you don't want to use it bc that will be the flavor of your sauce. It is something that won't cook out with time.

    Ricotta Salata does crumble but I find using a large grate on the grater to work just fine. Also, placing it in freezer for 5 minutes helps keep the cheese intact.

    Hope this answers everything!


    Oct 16, 2010 at 8:09 AM

  • Snooth User: luca chevalier
    Hand of Snooth
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    ...because oak eaged wines will be too "Strong" for this kind of pasta...consider that you don't have any meat involved.....right wine for pairing would be Nero d'Avola, a jung one (better if served cilled)...or better an Insolia, a thick with wine also from Sicily...

    Oct 16, 2010 at 8:22 AM

  • I'm sorry, i'm the owner of an "osteria" in Venice and I can tell you for sure that this is not the "pasta alla Norma". The real recipe is very easy with tagliatelle eggplants and smoked ricotta...

    Oct 16, 2010 at 10:14 AM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
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    watsonike1 and luca-chavalier, you don't want to cook with heavily oaked wines for any dish, not just this one. With the reduction over cooking time, the escape of the alcohol, etc. often all that seems to be left from the wrong, oaked wine is an obnoxious oak flavor, even stronger than at the start, that wants to take over the entire dish. Not adding complexity to the dish, or contributing to a layered melding of flavors, but rather a bludgeoning of the dish with oak staves into submission.....

    Oct 16, 2010 at 3:08 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
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    And Magda, not to be too much of a stickler, the pasta in the photo looks more like ziti than penne.... ;-)

    Oct 16, 2010 at 3:15 PM

  • Snooth User: MGagliano
    556011 10

    Photo in this article was not provided by Magda/cucinettaNYC

    Oct 16, 2010 at 3:58 PM

  • Quite interesting variation of the original recipe. I am totally open to variations according to own taste and inspiration. If inspiration and "fantasia" were not allowed in cooking, we would still be sucking the marrow out of bones like cavemen did. Since I live in Europe, my favourite destination for summer holidays is Sicilia with its incredible friendly and openhearted people and fabulous food. Last summer I even had the rare occasion to taste the ancestor of Pasta alla Norma - the Cataneselle alla Calatabianese, at a beach trattoria, close to Castello di San Marco, in Calatabiano (province of Cattania) Cattania is the birth place of Pasta alla Norma.
    The best Pasta alla Norma we ate were on the tiny island of Filicudi (Aeolian Islands off Sicily). Just the simple original recipe (as in the cookbook of Eufemia Azzolina Pupella - "La Cuccina Siciliana") with extra grilled slices of egg plants served separately on a large plate and aged, hard, ricotta salata.
    The wine I dare to suggest is a Nero d'Avola Settesoli, unoaked, produced by Sicilian legend Diego Planeta. It pairs perfectly to the dish in terms of minerality and flavor - you can taste in it the salty sea air, the volcanic soil and the sun of wonderful Sicilia

    Oct 17, 2010 at 2:15 AM

  • Hi, thanks for the recipe.

    Someone could reommend me a wine to drink with?



    Oct 18, 2010 at 3:28 AM

  • calinoubenjbenj

    as I said in my post just on top of yours, a wine to pair with the Pasta alla Norma would be an unoaked Nero d'Avola as the first choice.
    A Cerasuolo di Vittoria or Etna Rosso are also good pairings.
    You may also try a Chianti classico or one from the Colline Pissane - look for a lighter one.
    Other choices may be Barbera or Dolcetto.
    A white wine to pair with this dish is a Vernaccia di San Gimignano that matches nicely both the aubergines and the tomato sauce.
    But as you know, the suggestions are just guidelines, your own taste is the best choice !

    Enjoy your Pasta alla Norma

    Oct 18, 2010 at 4:27 AM

  • Snooth User: luca chevalier
    Hand of Snooth
    533661 2,535

    dmcker ...yes you can cook with "wooded" wine but you will not get a strong difference when you eat, for istance nobody cooks a Brasato al Barolo With Barolo, they use Nebbiolo because after 2-3 hour of cooking togheter with other ingredients it will be very difficult to find The taste of barolo, in good restaurant they use, instead, a good Nebbiolo (that is less expencive). I've said that you will not Pair this kind of recipe with that kind of wine because you need a taste a little bit more delicate then a "wooded" wine....ZITI are different, and AS Italian, i will Buy that kind of pasta in a supermarket as SEDANI RIGATI Barilla 500 grams 0,59 Euro Special OFFER....
    Please consider that this recipe comes from Sicily and regional Pairing often gives you the best taste...

    Oct 18, 2010 at 3:51 PM

  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    92549 196,467

    luca, I hear what you're saying about the Brasato al Barolo, but to say that no one uses Barolo is a little off target. Maybe a mid-level restaurant can get away with this but I know I can't.

    In fact, often, my clients want to know exactly what Barolo I used. If I just substituted a good Nebbiolo... I'd be cheating.

    For the last few years, I've been using either the 2000 Pio Cesare Barolo normale or the Anselma Barolo Normale for this dish. In the end, it's costed out to the customer. I find the 2000 vintage yields some really great results in the sauce.

    PS: often clients want a glass of the same Barolo served with the dish. What would said restaurant do in this case?

    Do you feel the same for Risotto al Barolo?

    Oct 20, 2010 at 10:52 PM

  • Snooth User: luca chevalier
    Hand of Snooth
    533661 2,535

    Hy're right 100% i was talking about a mid-level restaurant, were you pay 14 euros, let's say 20 US Dollars, a Brasato. i know that in the top restaurant they Can use The real Barolo but how much will cost the Brasato there?...the top restaurats are 4-5% of the restaurants in most of the restaurant does risotto and brasato with other wines and ...sometimes appens that they don't even have Barolo in the Wine List..:-)....of course top restaurants are different, i would like to eat there everyday but i can't...Anyway tell me where is your restaurant and i will come there someday....

    Oct 21, 2010 at 3:31 AM

  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    92549 196,467

    Luca, These days, I work in private dinning and event organizing. If you are ever in the city, please let me know and maybe we can get together over a nice bottle or two.

    Oct 21, 2010 at 6:38 AM

  • Snooth User: luca chevalier
    Hand of Snooth
    533661 2,535

    ...i see, so you work in NY..., i've visited your site , it's nice and you do a wonderful job,here you are some suggestion for you...first one it's a "iNSALATA caprese" but "modern one"...

    second, is one of my favourite recipes "Milanese di Tonno"..


    PS i'm sorry but i've to say that your risotto al barolo doesn't look nice infact it should look like this

    (ok this picture it's for a risotto alla milanese but look at the shape)

    this it's because your risotto, probably it's not enought "mantecato"..there is no translation for this...i'm trying to make a good risotto you have to use Riso Carnaroli and when it's done you put inside butter and Grana Padano and "mix" with a spoon 'till "it makes a wave" so wen you put it in a dish it look's like the picture....sorry for my english...

    Oct 21, 2010 at 3:43 PM

  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    92549 196,467

    Luca, I've had a similar conversation regarding risotto with some other Italian Chefs, all I can say is that you are right... However, my clients have nothing but good things to say about my risottos and it's become something of a specialty of mine. I would never argue that they are 100% traditionally perfect, but I will say that people swear by them and often remark that they have stopped attempting to order risotto when out, because they are disappointed by what they get (after sampling my recipes).

    I use Carnaroli, with the exception of using Vialone nano to achieve some smoother results, like in a milanese style. Of course, there are times when only Arborio is around to use but it's not preferred by me.

    The Milanese di Tonno looks fantastic. I've been experimenting with a similar dish but I'm far from perfecting it. The iNSALATA caprese, is a little too modern for my tastes, but looks fantastic as well.

    I work mainly in New York but I also travel when needed. What does your friend in Philli do? Is he working/running a restaurant now?

    Oct 21, 2010 at 6:58 PM

  • Snooth User: MGagliano
    556011 10

    If you would like to see other recipes, ideas and photos of actual food prepared by me, visit my "cucinettaNYC" Facebook page. You can also check for my most recent schedule of cooking demonstrations in NYC.

    Oct 21, 2010 at 7:47 PM

  • Snooth User: luca chevalier
    Hand of Snooth
    533661 2,535

    .....noo... he is an engineer working for augusta westland elicopter and she teach italyan at college...i'm not a chef, but i work with wines...i hope to get in NY someday...because i've been in the States many times, but not in NY...see you Eric and thank you for your anwers

    Oct 22, 2010 at 1:42 AM

  • I just got around to making this last night, and it was fantastic. Thanks much for the recipe!

    Aug 15, 2011 at 3:54 PM

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