When I asked people on Instagram what I should do with a few beautiful home-grown aubergines (brinjals), a few suggested rigatoni alla Norma. It’s a very simple Sicilian vegetarian pasta recipe that is utterly delicious and will go on a regular repeat in my house.
The famous New York Times recipe was my starting point in my research but I immediately knew I wouldn’t fry the aubergines but would rather roast them. I adore roasted aubergine (eggplant). Absorbing less oil, it makes the cooking totally hands-off and perfect for a weeknight supper.
I modelled the sauce around Marcella Hazan’s famous tomato sauce. This is a sauce I make all the time and especially when I haven’t planned any dinner. I use less butter here and add garlic, dried chilli flakes and oregano. At the end, I puree the onion into the sauce because it’s just too good to waste. I love the flavour and creaminess it gives to the sauce too.
Get the sauce on the go, put the aubergines in the oven, and get a pot of water on the boil for the pasta then pretty much step away. The aubergine is cooked so they have a soft creamy middle with slightly golden charred edges. They tend to fall apart and melt into the tomato sauce anyway, so you could make them in advance.
A generous shower of freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese and a few fresh basil leaves is all you need to finish off this rigatoni all Norma *see my note below re-adding ricotta.
This dish paired beautifully with the Anthonij Rupert Terra Del CapoSangiovese which feels like it was made for Italian food. The estate and tasting room in Franschhoek is wonderful to visit. They have an Italian-style deli and restaurant too. Check what else they have going on here.
Tips when making pasta or rigatoni alla Norma:
- Aubergines = brinjal = eggplant. It’s always so annoying that this vegetable has a different name in different parts of the world.
- Dried chilli flakes = red pepper flakes. Leave this out or add a pinch if you prefer to keep it mild or if you are serving this to children.
- If you prefer your aubergine to remain more intact, cut the cubes bigger.
- Rigatoni is the pasta of choice for alla Norma, but penne or any other firm short pasta would work well.
- The sauce in this recipe makes a little more than you need but just freeze for later use.
- This is a great dish to have cold as leftovers.
Origins of pasta all Norma (excerpt taken from here)
“Pasta alla Norma is a classic dish of Sicily. The lore of its origin goes back to a 19th-century composer, Vincenzo Bellini. He was born in Catania, Italy, and was an artist of great renown who composed many operas. One of his most lyrically beautiful and famous was called “Norma.” Supposedly a chef from Catania named his creative pasta dish after the opera, in tribute. To me, associating it with the opera suggests the inherent greatness of the dish itself.”
Traditionally the dish is served with fresh ricotta and ricotta salata, so please go ahead and use it. Ricotta salata is not something we find easily in South Africa. It’s an Italian cheese made from the whey of sheep milk, which is pressed, salted and aged for at least 90 days
I love the fried capers as a garnish in this recipe and I will do that next time. Fried capers are flavour bombs and would be amazing here with the ricotta.
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Recipe – serves 2 – 4 – depending on how hungry
Rigatoni alla Norma
- 2 x 410gms tins of crushed tomatoes or tomato passata
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 1 brown onion peeled and roughly chopped into 8 pieces
- 3 cloves of garlic slices
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ½ - 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
Rigatoni all Norma:
- 2 large aubergines brinjal or 3 medium, cut into 2-3cm dice
- 3 Tbsp Olive oil
- Salt & pepper
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- 250 gm rigatoni
- approx 1.5 - 2 cups of the tomato sauce as per above
- Grated ricotta salata to taste optional and I didn't use
- 1/2 cup 125gms fresh ricotta (optional but I didn't use)
- Freshly grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese
- Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F.
- Put the tomatoes in a medium pot with butter, onion, garlic, oregano, and chilli flakes. Season well with salt and pepper. Bring to a gentle bubble then simmer on low with the lid on for 45mintes. Stir occasionally.
- Toss the chopped aubergines in olive oil & oregano and season well with salt and pepper. Spread on a large baking tray and roast in the oven for around 30 – 40 minutes until golden on the outside and soft in the middle.
- Halfway through the cooking time, get a large pot of salty water on the boil and cook the rigatoni until al dente.
- When the tomato sauce is ready, process it with a stick blender until smooth.
- Mix the pasta with the roasted aubergine and tomato sauce and serve with grated parmesan and torn fresh basil leaves.