Pasta alla Norma, a traditional Sicilian dish, is made of pasta and sautéed eggplant tossed with tomato sauce and topped with ricotta salata. It’s a wonderful vegetarian dinner. It can be thrown together in under an hour and it’s very satisfying. This take on the classic is just as simple and straightforward, but the main difference lies in the cheese: this Tomato, Eggplant & Ricotta Pasta calls for fresh ricotta as opposed to ricotta salata. While ricotta salata is dry and crumbly, fresh ricotta is creamy and in this recipe, added straight to the sauce.
Choosing the Best Eggplant
As with most vegetables, the eggplants you buy at a farmers’ market are usually quite fresh, but the ones you get from the supermarket are likely to have experienced a longer interval between harvest and the move into the store’s shelves. When buying eggplant, look at the little green cap: the brighter the green, the fresher the eggplant. Examine the skin: it should be glossy, taut, and completely smooth. Squeeze the eggplant gently: it must not feel spongy; it should spring back firmly from your touch. When held in the hand, it must feel light; if it is heavy in the hand it could be weighed down by too many seeds. It should be slightly firm but not hard.
Eggplant yields a creamy and sweet flesh when baked whole, but tends to be a little less sweet, and even bitter sometimes, when cut into chunks and sautéed. In that case, you might want to first purge the eggplant of bitter juices by salting the chunks ahead of time and allowing any bitter juices to drain away (pat the slices dry before cooking).
I’ve never had to follow the purging method when making this pasta. I cook the eggplant chunks in abundant olive oil and they always come out nicely browned, soft, and sweet. But keep that in mind in case you might find them bitter.
a few notes
I use canned tomatoes for the sauce, but if I happen to have fresh cherry tomatoes on hand I can’t resist adding them in. I personally think burst cherry tomatoes are a great addition to most pasta sauces, just sauté until they burst before adding the canned tomatoes.
Mushrooms would be a great addition to the sauce. As with the eggplant, sauté the mushrooms in abundant olive oil and cook until browned and crisp.
Tomato, Eggplant & Ricotta Pasta
- 1 medium eggplant
- 1 can crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- 1 small onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup ricotta
- olive oil, as needed for cooking
- 9 oz pasta
- salt and pepper
- red pepper flakes, optional
- chopped parsley or basil, for garnish
- Cut the eggplant into small cubes. Finely dice the onion and mince the garlic.
- Boil the pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain, reserving about 1/4 cup of the cooking water.
- Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Cook eggplant in abundant olive oil, sprinkling with salt and adding more oil as needed. Cook until the eggplant is browned and soft, this might take a few minutes.
- Add onions and garlic, and sauté until soft and translucent, about 2 minutes.
- Add the cherry tomatoes and cook until they start to burst, smashing some of the tomatoes using a wooden spoon.
- Add the canned tomatoes and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, until sauce has reduced and thickened (until saucy but not dry). Season with red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.
- Stir in the ricotta.
- Drain the pasta and toss it with the tomato sauce. Add some of the reserved pasta coking water, if needed.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning, then top with chopped parsley or basil. Serve.
Tips & Tricks:
If you make this Tomato, Eggplant & Ricotta Pasta please be sure to leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you and I love responding to every comment. And don’t forget to also tag me on Instagram. I’d love to see your photos!