Made with lots of gorgeous veggies in a rich tomato sauce, my Pasta alla Norma is a delicious, wholesome twist on a traditional Sicilian pasta dish. My version is slightly healthier, with a lot less cheese – and my recipe can be vegetarian. There’s a vegan option too. Using gluten free pasta makes it gluten free as well.
Pasta alla Norma is a traditional Sicilian dish which consists of pasta served with an eggplant and ricotta cheese sauce. The story goes that back in the 1800’s a famous Sicilian writer and theatre director was so impressed when he tasted this dish for the first time he proclaimed it ‘as good as Norma’, a very popular opera at that time.
Pasta alla Norma – Why Change a Classic?
Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good traditional Pasta alla Norma. However, I always feel it’s a bit lacking in veggies. I love so many other Mediterranean vegetables it seems a shame to just focus on the eggplant. So the first twist on my Pasta alla Norma is that it contains mushrooms, red peppers and zucchini (courgettes) as well. This gives a thick, flavourful sauce chock full of veggies that really hits the spot. It makes the dish more nutritious too.
The second twist is this – Traditionally Pasta alla Norma is made with penne pasta. Of course this sauce works perfectly well with any pasta you would like to use. However, my favourite way to serve Pasta alla Norma is with Fusilli Lunghi, a curly spaghetti that looks like the cords from the telephones we had when I was a kid. For a gluten free version of this recipe, simply use the gluten free pasta of your choice.
I prefer Parmesan cheese to ricotta so for a final twist to this recipe I’ve used that instead. I love the sharp flavour Parmesan provides in contrast to milder, creamier ricotta. Also, as it is a strongly flavoured cheese, you can use less of it to keep the recipe lower in fat and calories. You can use Parmegiano Reggiano or Gran Padano instead if you prefer. A small wedge of any of these Italian cheeses can be expensive but they will keep for absolutely ages well wrapped in the fridge and the flavour is worth the splurge.
Making the Recipe Vegetarian/Vegan
Parmesan cheese, Parmegiano Reggiano and Gran Padano are all sometimes made using rennet made from animal products. Strict vegetarians will want to be sure to use a vegetarian Italian style cheese. For a vegan option, simply leave out the cheese, or use a vegan cheese substitute for your Pasta alla Norma.
Pasta alla Norma – perfect for relaxed entertaining
Perfect for relaxed entertaining, Pasta alla Norma is one of my family’s very favourite meatless dishes. It’s one of mine too because, aside from a little therapeutic vegetable chopping and simmering, this is a really quick and easy recipe to make.
The sauce will ‘hold’ over a low heat for up to an hour after it is cooked. Just stir the sauce occasionally to keep it from sticking to the pan. When you guests arrive, throw the pasta in boiling water, warm up some crusty bread or toss a salad to serve alongside, and you are good to go!
Pasta alla Norma – Printable Recipe
- 1 pound Fusilli Lunghi (roughly 500 grams)
- or enough of your favourite pasta to serve 4 (use gluten free pasta for a gluten free version of this recipe)
- 3 tablespoons mild olive oil, divided
- 1 red onion
- 1 cup mushrooms, quartered
- 1 eggplant (aubergine)
- 1 medium zucchini (courgette)
- 1 red pepper
- 2½ cups plain tomato sauce or passata (sieved tomatoes)
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- Parmesan cheese to serve (use vegetarian or vegan cheese if required)
- Put a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta.
- Peel and finely chop the onion.
- Cut the eggplant in pieces roughly one inch square.
- De-seed the red pepper and cut into pieces roughly one inch square.
- Top and tail the zucchini cut it in half lengthwise and then in half moons roughly half a quarter of an inch thick.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the mild olive oil in a large deep frying pan (if possible one that has a lid as you’ll need it later) over medium heat.
- Sauté the onion for a minute or two and then add the eggplant.
- Continue to cook, stirring almost constantly so that the eggplant softens.
- You may need to gradually add a bit more oil as eggplant does really absorb it.
- Once the eggplant has begun to soften (about 5 to 7 minutes), add the mushrooms, zucchini and red pepper.
- Sauté the vegetables until they begin to pick up a bit of colour.
- Stir in the tomato sauce or passata as well as the basil and oregano.
- Add a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper to taste.
- Put the lid on the pan, lower the heat and simmer the sauce for twenty minutes, stirring occasionally. (The sauce is ready now, but can be left on a low heat if you need to 'hold' it for a bit. Be sure to stir it once in a while. If it gets too thick, add a tiny bit of hot water from the kettle.)
- When you are ready to serve, cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions.
- When the pasta is cooked, drain and divide between four plates, spooning the sauce over top.
- Garnish with grated or shaved Parmesan, Parmegiano Reggiano or Gran Padano cheese or a vegetarian/vegan alternative.