One of the classic Sicilian pasta dishes is the famous Pasta Alla Norma. There are many variations of this dish mainly consisting of eggplant, tomatoes, and Ricotta Salata Cheese along with some hot pepper flakes. It is a personal favorite of mine which made me curious about how it might be if one were to serve it as a pasta salad at room temperature with a few additional touches – and thus we have PASTA SALAD ALLA NORMA.
Before we dive into the recipe, it is probably a good idea to answer a question first: Who exactly is Norma and why does she get a pasta dish named for her? Norma was the tragic heroine of Vincenzo Bellini’s opera of the same name. This opera and character was so revered in the 19th century by the Sicilian people that they named a pasta dish for her. The opera is heavy on the melodrama including much about fire and funeral pyres – thus the inclusion of hot pepper flakes in the dish.
This rendition is more of a room temperature pasta salad including all of the classically required ingredients and the addition of a couple of extras like the famous Sicilian olive called Castelvetrano after a Sicilian town in the province of Trapani. You might know these olives by their absolutely brilliant and vivid green color – almost a blue green. They are gorgeous, mild, and fruity. I just love them and include them in cooking because of their mildness and extraordinary color. They contribute to giving this dish its gorgeous presentation.
Add in some red wine vinegar and pignoli nuts – and you end up with some “wow”!
This is a really flavorful dish. My husband who likes meat in everything makes a couple of exceptions and this is one of them. He just loves it!
Traditionally Pasta Alla Norma calls for shaved Ricotta Salata – a solid salty ricotta cheese which I suggest here. However, if you can’t find it, a nice Pecorino will fill the bill.
Let’s get on with it, as I can hear Norma wailing at the pyre now – and it is hard on the ears!!
PASTA SALAD ALLA NORMA
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 25-30 minutes
1 lb. Cooked Pasta (I like a chunky pasta for this like Ziti, Mezza Rigatoni, Strozzapreti, Fusilli Pugliese, Penne etc.)
2 Cups Cherry Tomatoes, Early Girl Tomatoes, or Campari Tomatoes – cut
4 Cups Sliced and Cut Eggplant as shown in photo (peeled or unpeeled)
1 Cup Olive Oil
2 Cloves Fresh Garlic chopped finely
1/3 Cup Chopped Italian Parsley
1/4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
1/4 Tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/3 Cup Pignoli Nuts (pine nuts)
1 1/2 Cups Pitted Castelvetrano Olives
Shaved Ricotta Salata Cheese ( you can substitute Pecorino if needed)
Drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Cook the pasta according to package directions.
You can press your eggplant a couple of hours ahead if you like to rid it of any bitterness. Do this by slicing it and layering between paper towels. Then put some heavy weight on top. After a couple of hours, discard the paper towels and proceed with the eggplant as suggested.
Choose some gorgeous ripe sweet tomatoes for this. These are “Early Girls”.
Mix the tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, parsley, red pepper flakes together in a bowl.
Pour olive oil and vinegar over the top of the above, add salt and pepper, and mix gently.
Pour onto a baking pan and roast at 400 degrees for about 20-25 minutes or until the eggplant is fork tender and to your liking.
Add the olives and the pignoli and gently toss.
Pour all of this over the cooked pasta immediately along with any juices in the pan. Mix together.
Top with shaved Ricotta Salata or Pecorino Cheese.
Add a drizzle of a nice peppery extra virgin olive oil.
Serve your PASTA SALAD ALLA NORMA at room temperature or cold, if you like, as your main course or as a beautiful side dish with a nice bottle of Sicilian red – like a Nero D’Avola.
PARLA COME MANGI!
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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography