Pasta Alla Norma is a traditional Sicilian dish made with pasta, eggplant, tomatoes, grated cheese, and basil. This recipe uses the microwave to speed up the cooking process and minimize the need for oil. If you love eggplant, this pasta dish is for you!
We started a garden this year, and although a lot of our plants didn’t do very well, we managed to get quite a few eggplants from our little plot! I have to admit that I don’t have a lot of eggplant recipes, so I got to work finding some ways to use it that would be healthy and satisfying.
When I first stumbled upon a Pasta Alla Norma recipe, I loved the sound of it. Unfortunately, most recipes called for frying the eggplant, and I wanted to keep this dish light and healthy. Luckily, I found a technique from America’s Test Kitchen that involved microwaving the eggplant first, to draw out the water and cook the eggplant without the need for a lot of oil. You’ll need a few coffee filters, but it’s a quick and easy process!
Then, I decided to speed things up even more by using jarred pasta sauce. You can give your favorite sauce a little kick with extra garlic and crushed red peppers. To top it off, a little freshly grated cheese gives it a salty finish. Pasta Alla Norma is usually finished with grated Ricotta Salata cheese, but if you don’t have that in your refrigerator, you can use freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese. (Just don’t use the powdered stuff that comes in a can. That’s not real cheese!)
How to pick out an eggplant
For this recipe, you want to use a globe-shaped eggplant. You might see Japanese style eggplants, which tend to be long and skinny with a lighter purple peel, but this recipe calls for a traditional eggplant like the one shown below. It should have dark purple skin without blemishes. If the eggplant is soft, it’s likely overripe. It should feel firm with just a slight give when squeezed.
Substitution Suggestions for Pasta Alla Norma
- Pasta– I recommend using a short tube-shaped pasta like ziti or penne. You can use regular, whole wheat, or chickpea pasta. I prefer chickpea pasta because it has the most protein and fiber.
- Sauce– I prefer a high-quality tomato basil pasta sauce like Rao’s. You can use any brand you like, but make sure it’s not too sweet. Some pasta sauces have added sugar, which can make the finished dish too sweet.
- Cheese– As I said, Pasta Alla Norma is traditionally finished with grated Ricotta Salata cheese, you can use freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese.
How to make vegan Pasta Alla Norma
If you want to keep this recipe dairy-free, you can simply omit the shredded cheese. I’d recommend adding an extra pinch of salt to the final dish. You could also add a sprinkle of nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan. Violife makes a shreddable Parmesan if you want a substitution option that will look and feel most similar to the original dish!
How to make gluten-free Pasta Alla Norma
For a gluten-free option, simply use your favorite gluten-free pasta! I used chickpea pasta in the version I photographed, and you’d never guess! Just make sure you’re using a short, tube-shaped pasta. Banza makes penne noodles (pictured above) that are perfect for this.
Pasta Alla Normal is a traditional Sicilian dish made with pasta, eggplant, tomatoes, grated cheese, and basil. This recipe uses the microwave to speed up cooking times and minimize the need for oil. If you love eggplant, this pasta dish is for you!
This recipe was adapated from America’s Test Kitchen.
- 1 medium eggplant (about 12 oz) diced into 1/2″ cubes
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (plus more for pasta water)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 12 oz marinara sauce (I recommend Rao’s tomato basil)
- 8 oz whole wheat pasta
- 1 oz Ricotta Salata, Pecorino Romano, or Parmesan, shredded
- Basil, for garnish
- In a large bowl, toss the eggplant with 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
- Line the surface of large microwave-safe plate with double layer of paper coffee filters and spread eggplant in even layer over the filters.
- Microwave the eggplant on high, uncovered, until mostly dry to the touch and slightly shriveled, about 8 minutes, tossing once halfway through to ensure that eggplant cooks evenly.
- Transfer eggplant back into the bowl, and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil.
- Transfer eggplant to a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and cook, stirring every 1½ to 2 minutes, until browned and tender, about 8 minutes.
- Add garlic and continue to cook for 2 minutes.
- Add pasta sauce and cook for 2-3 minutes until heated.
- Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook until al dente. Drain pasta, then add to the now-empty bowl.
- Top the pasta with the tomato and eggplant mixture.
- Stir until evenly coated then divide into bowls and top with cheese and basil.
To speed up the process, begin by bringing a pot of water to a boil. Add pasta after eggplant is finished cooking in the microwave.
Keywords: Easy Pasta Alla Norma
Pasta Alla Norma Side Dish Ideas
- Spicy Kale Salad– This easy salad recipe is one of my favorites because it has an unexpected spicy kick! It’s easy to prepare and it’s a perfect side dish for any pasta recipe.
- Easy Italian Chopped Salad– Filled with sweet peppers, feta cheese, and pepperoncini, this Italian salad is a great pasta side dish!
- Antipasto Skewers– These skewers are a great quick and easy appetizer, made with mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil!
Are you looking for other pasta ideas? Try this Parmesan orzo pasta recipe!
What’s your favorite way to enjoy eggplant?