Pasta alla Norma has become the unofficial signature dish of Sicily. Originally created in the city of Catania around the same time as Vincenzo Bellini’s romantic opera “Norma”. It is said that the pasta was created as a homage to the composer and the opera however other stories say that the pasta was created first by a talented home cook who served this creation to a group of gourmands and was duly christened at the table via the classic Sicilian complement of “Chista e na vera Norma” (this is a real Norma). Either way the dish stuck and is now internationally known. Typical of Sicily the dish is balanced and uses the finest seasonal produce.
Serves 4 as a main course
- 400g dried rigatoni pasta
- 2 medium size, firm aubergines, trimmed and cut into 2cm dice
- 1/2 onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 800g quality chopped tinned tomatoes or passata
- 200g ricotta salata, grated
- 150ml Extra virgin olive oil.
- Sea salt and black pepper for cooking
- A good handful of fresh basil leaves
- Put the diced aubergine in a colander in the sink and sprinkle with salt. Leave to sit for 30 minutes.
- Heat the oven to 230C.
- Rinse the aubergine in cold water, pat dry with a kitchen towel and toss in a bowl with half the oil, then bake, well spread out, for about 15-20 minutes until caramelised, turning occasionally to make sure the pieces don’t dry out.
- Meanwhile, heat the other half of the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat and add the onion and garlic. Saute for a couple of minutes, then add the tomatoes and half the basil and bring to a simmer.
- Turn down the heat and cook slowly for about 23 to 30 minutes until thickened (the exact time will depend on your tinned tomato brand).
- Once the sauce is almost ready, cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water to al dente or follow the instructions on the pack.
- Add the aubergine to the sauce and discard the basil. Drain the pasta (reserving a little of the cooking liquor) and toss in the sauce. If the sauce seems too thick then add the liquor to loosen.
- Now divide between plates and sprinkle with the ricotta and the remaining basil leaves, roughly torn over the top. It’s best allowed to cool slightly before eating.