Saturday, June 25, 2011

"Pasta alla Norma", what's the story of this incredible dish?

Do you know how to make pasta alla Norma? And what is the story of this Sicilian dish? The pasta alla Norma is originally from Catania, the second bigger city in Sicily and is dedicated, just as the name suggests, at the famous opera lirica LA NORMA composed in 1831 by Vincenzo Bellini, a musician from Catania.

I have actually heard two different stories about this dish: the first one says that the name of the dish was given by a playwright Nino Martoglio, also from Catania. He was comparing the goodness of the pasta with the opera lirica and exclaimed: This is a Norma! (meaning as goos as the Norma...)

Second story is that while writing this masterpiece Vincenzo Bellini used to go to a restaurant and ordered always this dish of pasta, so the owner finally name it after his opera to homage Bellini. Besides, it is said that at those times the dish had a very special presentation: it was like a mountain-shaped plate of pasta with eggplants/aubergine at the bottom, all cut in pieces or slices and then on top the tomato sauce with grated salted ricotta covering everything. It was a very creative representation of the Mount Etna with its land, lava and snow.

Making the Norma is very easy if you have the right ingredients. For 6 people you will need:

600 gr maccheroni or spaghetti
500 ml tomato sauce
olive oil
grated salted ricotta
aromas (cinnamon, nutmeg)
2 eggplants or aubergines

In Sicily we have two varieties of eggplants or aubergines: the oval ones and the rounded ones. These last ones (the pic on the right) are the best and the most used in the kitchen because of their sweeter delicate taste. We call them "tunisine" which means Tunisian, allegedly because they used to come from there.
1. When we use eggplants/aubergine we cut them in slices or dices, depending on the dish we are gonna make and then we place them on a colander with abundant salt and leave it aside for about 15 minutes. My mother taught me since I was a kid that this is good for giving eggplants/aubergines a sweeter taste and letting release the bitter they contain. After that you just have to wash them under running water and they are ready to be cooked.

2. Second step is frying. In a pan put some olive oil and start frying your eggplants until they become slightly brown on both sides (not black!). For this dish you can either do slices or cubes, it doesn't really matter!

3. Prepare pasta as you normally do, boiling it in salted water. While pasta is cooking put some tomato sauce in a sauce pan with some fresh basil and adjust with salt, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg to make it more parfumed.

4. As soon as pasta is drained cover it with the tomato sauce and the eggplants/aubergines and grate on top the salted ricotta or instead, if you don't have it, some parmisan cheese. It will still be delicious and you will just ask for more.

*In some families they also like to add some mozzarella cheese in cubes before serving the pasta. They mix all the ingredients together in the pan and then serve with the mozzarella still thready. It is just an addition to the original recipe, but I swear they are both unforgettable and suitable for vegeterians. Enjoy!

Thanks to my friend Giuseppe for sending me the picture of his lovely pasta alla Norma!


  1. This is one healthful pasta dish! Everyone will surely enjoy this recipe. Eggplants have rich nutritional values which makes this dish not only delicious but also healthy.

  2. My husband is from Catania and he introduced this dish to me 25 years ago - it is tremendous! Thank you for posting the authentic recipe and the accurate history!

  3. My pleasure! Thanks for your comment.

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  5. I like the sound of this. I am definitely going to try it soon. I love aubergines in any form! Nx

  6. How often is it eaten in Italy???

  7. In summer very often. Like every 2 weeks or so!