I hesitate to tell you about the vegetable hiding in this delicious vegan pasta recipe. Can you spot it? It’s purple and it’s polarizing; it’s eggplant. Before you hit the back button, hear me out. The eggplant in this Pasta alla Norma recipe is roasted and caramelized and the texture is totally doable for even the biggest skeptics. Believe me, I’m one of them! Once you get a mouthful of the tender pasta and delicious tomato sauce, the eggplant makes sense. I promise you’re going to love it. Let’s make some Pasta alla Norma!
Pasta alla Norma is a traditional Italian pasta dish (can you tell I’m on an Italian kick lately?) with roots in the Sicilian city of Catania. It’s one of those mind blowing recipes that only requires a handful of ingredients, yet packs unbelievable flavor. Because there are only a few key ingredients - eggplant, tomato, basil, and salted ricotta - quality is key. I recommend shopping local and organic when possible.
Traditional Pasta alla Norma recipes call for salting and pressing the eggplant before cooking to draw out the bitter flavor of the vegetable. That’s not necessary in this recipe, as we'll bake the eggplant instead of frying it, and salting beforehand won’t impact the flavor.
Sicilians are particular about the ingredients they use to make Pasta alla Norma. There is little, if any, room for creativity with the original version of the recipe. You can read more about the precise ingredients of traditional Pasta alla Norma here. I am not Sicilian nor do I claim authenticity with this recipe, so I took the liberty of using canned tomatoes. In particular, San Marzano tomatoes.
If you’re going to make this recipe, I highly, highly recommend using canned San Marzano tomatoes. Tomatoes provide the foundation for the sauce and the sweet flavor of San Marzano tomatoes is unmatched. In fact, they have been called the best canned tomatoes in the world. You can find them with other canned tomatoes at larger grocery stores.
Traditional Pasta alla Norma is finished with ricotta salata, a salted, firm, dry cheese. I’ve been wanting to try the plant-based ricotta from Kite Hill and this recipe presented the perfect opportunity. Just as I predicted, it’s amazing. However, the overall dish is just as delicious without it. Open a bottle of prosecco and try this spin on Pasta alla Norma for your next date night in!
- 1 large eggplant or 2 small eggplants (about 1 pound total)
- 3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
- 1½ teaspoons sea salt, divided
- A few twists of freshly ground black pepper
- 12 ounces of rigatoni pasta
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 ¾-ounce package of fresh basil leaves, torn (reserve a few for garnish)
- 1 28-ounce can of San Marzano peeled tomatoes
- Vegan ricotta, for serving (optional)
- Preheat your oven to 425F degrees.
- Using a vegetable peeler, peel 1-inch strips of skin all the way around the eggplant, creating a stripe pattern.
Cut the eggplant into 1-inch chunks and divide them between two baking sheets (or one really large baking sheet). Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and toss immediately - eggplant is like a sponge and will soak up the oil quickly.
- Sprinkle the eggplant with 1 teaspoon of salt and a few twists of black pepper. Roast the eggplant for 35 to 40 minutes, flipping the pieces halfway through. When done, the eggplant should be tender and caramelized.
- Meanwhile, start on the pasta and sauce. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the rigatoni and boil according to the package directions, until al dente. Drain the pasta and set aside.
- Heat the remaining teaspoon of olive oil in a large, deep skillet over low heat. Add the garlic, the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt, and red pepper flakes; sauté for 1 minute. Add the fresh basil leaves to the skillet and sauté until wilted, another minute.
- Add the San Marzano tomatoes to the skillet and use a wooden spatula to gently break up the tomatoes into large chunks.
- Add the roasted eggplant to the skillet and stir the ingredients together. Simmer the sauce over low heat while the pasta finishes cooking, 5 to 10 minutes.
- When done, transfer the cooked rigatoni to the skillet and stir to coat the pasta in the sauce. Remove from heat.
- Divide the Pasta alla Norma between plates and top with vegan ricotta (if using) and garnish with fresh basil.
Nutrition information does not include vegan ricotta.