Today I’m sharing one of my favourite ever pasta recipes. You know that feeling, when you know you’re eating your favourite food for dinner, and you look forward to it all day? That’s how I feel about this recipe. We call it Eggplant Pasta, but its also widely known as Pasta alla Norma. From the small amount of research I did, I know it has Sicilian origins, but it seems like there are many different ways to make this classic vegetarian pasta dish.
I’m really trying to get better at sharing my very favourite recipes. The ones that don’t seem all that special or glamorous, but make the best quick, simple dinners. Perfect for weeknights and busy days. This is one of those. I’ve made this dish so many times that the process and ingredient quantities are now completely intuitive. I can do this on autopilot when I’m wiped after a full day shoot. I had to force myself to write it down this time so I could share it with you here!
Eggplant is by far one of my favourite vegetables. I love that it beautifully takes on the flavours of whatever accompanies it. I pretty much love it in all ways, forms, shapes and sizes. It’s an ingredient used so many ways by so many different cultures, from Japanese miso eggplant (Nasu Dengaku) to Filipino eggplant omelette (tortang talong) to smokey baba ganoush and moussaka. I love it all. But my sister is the total opposite, disliking eggplant in all forms except this recipe. That must say something – that even an eggplant hater loves this dish!
How to make Eggplant Pasta
This dish is easy, forgiving and hard to mess up! It’s perfect for beginner cooks or if you just want to try something new, but simple on a weeknight. Also, if you make it while eggplants are in season and more affordable, it’s also a really economical dinner option and makes great leftovers too!
Different recipes that you find online or in cookbooks will have slightly different methods for cutting and cooking the eggplant. Some cooks like to roast or fry the eggplant in slices, but I like it cubed and fried in olive oil, until it just starts to colour.
Then onion, fresh oregano and (lots of) garlic are added. Fresh chilli or red pepper flakes would be good too if you like some heat. Sometimes, I add fresh cherry tomatoes. I also love adding a large spoonful of tomato paste to bolster the flavour and help to thicken the sauce.
The secret ingredient is actually vinegar. I don’t often have red wine on hand for cooking, but often substitue balsamic or red wine vinegar. It adds a great depth of flavour and helps to balance the acidity. I like to keep a stash of vinegars on hand of varying qualities and price points. I use a cheaper supermarket brand of balsamic for cooking and a better quality one that I love the taste of for dressing salads and cooked vegetables.
You can, of course, use any shape and size pasta that you like with this one. I have used a rigatoni shape here because the sauce clings to it beautifully. Any kind of penne, spaghetti, spiral or casarecce will work well, so just go with your heart on this one.
Fresh herbs add so much to this Eggplant Pasta. Tomato, eggplant and basil are the best of friends in recipes. But in the past (pre herb garden days) I’ve used parsley or mint if I don’t have any basil.
Traditional recipes often call for ricotta salata, which is a dried, salted ricotta cheese that can be grated overtop. It is really not easy to find here in Sydney, so we can improvise. Sometimes I like to tear apart baby bocconcini and stir them into the pasta and sauce. The heat starts to melt them, and it makes the sauce a little creamy. You could also stir in some creamy ricotta or feta at the last minute. If nothing else, a generous dusting of grated parmesan is also very delicious. Or skip the cheese entirely to keep it dairy free and vegan friendly!
Another thing I love about this recipe is that it refrigerates, freezes and reheats really well. I’ve been growing eggplant in the garden the last two summers, so this dish is even more special when using home-grown. Last year, I made a triple batch of this sauce to use up my beautiful homegrown eggplants and kept it in the freezer for another day. On a busy day, you can just heat the sauce in a saucepan over low heat, or even in the microwave. Then just cook up your pasta of choice and voila, dinner in 10 minutes flat. Also, PS – did you know eggplant flowers are a beautiful shade of lilac purple? *heart eyes*
I hope that this Eggplant Pasta recipe becomes part of your repertoire. Maybe it will even turn into one of your favourites like it is for me! As quick and easy as it is for a weeknight, you could also serve it for a casual dinner with friends. I would serve this in a large dish in the centre of the table – banquet style – scattered with more fresh basil. Along with some lovely crusty bread and a nice glass of wine, you’ve got yourself a good time!
If you make this Eggplant Pasta recipe, please let me know here in the comments or over on Instagram. Please take a pic and tag me @spicyicecream. I absolutely love to see your photos of the recipes you’ve made!
Related Post: Easy Salami Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes & Burrata
Eggplant Pasta (Pasta alla Norma)
Eggplant Pasta, or Pasta alla Norma as it's sometimes known is a delicious, quick and simple dinner, perfect for weeknights. It's a vegetarian meal that can be easily adapted to be gluten free or vegan and great for beginner cooks!
- 1 large eggplant, cut into 2cm cubes
- 1/2 brown onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, finely diced
- 1 teaspoon fresh oregano, finely chopped (or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 250 g cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/4 cup red wine or balsamic vinegar, or to taste
- 1 x 400g can died tomatoes
- 1 heaped tablespoon tomato paste
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste, optional
- 500 g rigatoni or pasta of your choice
- Large handful fresh basil, roughly chopped
- Fresh parmesan, grated, to serve
Heat the olive oil in a large frypan or saucepan on medium heat until hot. Add the eggplant and cook, stirring occasionally for 7-10 minutes or until they start to colour. Add the chopped onion, garlic and oregano and cook, stirring for about 3 minutes. Add the cherry tomatoes and balsamic or red wine vinegar and cook for another 5 minutes or until the tomatoes start to burst and release their juice.
Turn the heat down and add the can of tomatoes, tomato paste, salt and pepper and stir to combinme. Cook, stirring occasionally for 10-15 minutes or until the sauce is slightly thickened. Test for seasoning and add a little sugar or more vinegar if you like.
In the meantime, cook your pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water.
Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the fresh basil. Drain the cooked pasta and add to the sauce, stirring to coat. Add some or all of the reserved cooking water if the sauce consistency looks too thick.
Serve with more fresh basil and freshly grated parmesan cheese.