One of my absolute favourite pasta dishes is Pasta alla Norma, a traditional Sicilian dish originally made in the city of Catania. It traditionally consists of pasta served with an eggplant and ricotta cheese sauce. The story goes that back in the 1800’s Nino Martoglio, a Sicilian writer and theatre director, was so impressed when he tasted this dish for the first time he proclaimed it ‘as good as Norma’, the title of a very popular opera at that time.
Pasta all 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 as well as eggplant and it seems a shame to leave them out. 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.
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.
In my heart of hearts, 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. 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. If you are vegetarian, use a good vegetarian alternative. There are some really flavourful vegetarian and even vegan Parmesan style cheeses out there.
Pasta alla Norma – perfect for relaxed entertaining
Perfect for relaxed entertaining, Pasta alla Norma with a Twist is one of my family’s very favourite Meatless Monday 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. Open a bottle of good red wine, pour some grape juice for the kids, warm up some crusty bread or toss a salad to serve alongside, and dinner is served!
- 1 pound Fusilli Lunghi (roughly 500 grams)
- or enough of your favourite pasta to serve 4
- 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
- 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 ten to twenty minutes, stirring occasionally. (The longer the better, up to half an hour.)
- 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.