This Pasta Melanzane (or Pasta Alla Norma as some might call it) tastes like Sicilian summer. Made with fresh tomatoes, basil leaves and fried eggplant it is fresh, light and absolutely delicious.
Penne con Melanzane on the dinner table tonight. I haven't been to Italy for many years now and must admit, I miss it. This is one of the countries that has it all - beautiful nature, beautiful people and the most delicious food.
This is why I am absolutely in love with this easy pasta melanzane recipe. It brings back memories and kind of brings you back to Italy, under the hot Mediterranean sun.
This pasta melanzane recipe comes from a beautiful recipe book by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, The River Cafe. I believe this melanzane recipe is very authentic. I made a couple of shortcuts to adapt the recipe for a busy lifestyle, but all the credit goes to the authors.
Why do I love this recipe
If my nostalgic foreword wasn't enough to convince you to try this simple Italian recipe, here are a couple more reasons why you should make this pasta dish:
- While pasta melanzane might sound like something fancy and complicated, it actually isn't. This Sicilian dish is super easy to make and can be done by a beginner cook.
- It is super fast. 30 minutes is all it takes to get a beautifully Italian dish on your dinner table.
- Kids friendly. Thanks to fresh tomatoes and basil this meal is family and kid-friendly. What kid doesn't like pasta? You might want to adjust the amount of garlic a little if serving to very young kids.
- Healthy. This dish is a great way to incorporate more vegetables into your diet. Tomatoes, eggplant, basil and garlic are all great to boost your immune system and overall well-being. The Mediterranean diet is famous for a reason.
As mentioned above only very few simple ingredients are needed to make this sensational pasta dish. Just make sure you opt for the best quality you can find - this is the real secret to any Italian recipe.
- Pasta. Any pasta is great. I used gluten-free penne to make our dinner, but you can use spaghetti, rigatoni, fusilli or any other pasta shape you fancy.
- Eggplant or aubergine. The original recipe calls for pale round eggplants which are not exactly easy to find here in Melbourne. I used the regular purple variety. Choose smaller eggplants/aubergine, that are nice and firm.
- Tomatoes. I used fresh tomatoes to make the sauce and I believe it is absolutely worth it to spend some time making the tomato sauce from scratch. However, if you are in a hurry, you can use canned diced tomatoes or a good quality passata. A store-bought marinara sauce will work too.
- Garlic. Fresh is the best as usual. You have to mince the garlic to a paste for the best results.
- Basil. Pasta melanzane requires fresh basil, full stop. No substitutes!
- Red wine vinegar.
- Cheese. Salted ricotta or Greek feta cheese. See more below ⬇️
What cheese should I use?
The authentic pasta con melanzane (or Pasta alla Norma) requires salted ricotta cheese. Unfortunately, I could not find it anywhere in my local shops. I was told the best substitute for salted ricotta is Greek feta cheese.
Salted ricotta cheese is hard and salty and complements sweet tomatoes beautifully, and so does the feta cheese. While I can't make a direct comparison between salted ricotta and feta cheese, I can tell you that the end result of my penne con melanzane with feta cheese was lip-licking delicious.
How to make it
Tomato sauce. I believe this is the most important step in the whole recipe and is what makes it taste authentically Italian.
- Start by placing the tomatoes in a bowl with boiling water and leave them in the bowl for a couple of minutes. Carefully get the tomatoes out and let them cool a little. You will now be able just to pull the tomato skin off. Chop them roughly and put them in a large bowl.
- Mince the garlic to a smooth paste and add to tomatoes along with a good pinch of sea salt and a hand full of fresh basil leaves. Mix and set aside.
Fried eggplant/aubergine. The original eggplant penne is made with fried eggplant/aubergine. I am not a big fan of frying vegetables, so I just shallow-fried the eggplant slices in a frying pan. You can of course go ahead and deep fry the eggplant if you like. You can also roast it in the oven if you would like to use less olive oil.
- Slice the eggplant into thin slices, no more than 5 mm (0.2 inches).
- Heat enough olive oil in a frying pan to completely cover the bottom of the pan. Eggplant loves oil and you will need some to cook it.
- Fry the eggplant slices on both sides until they have a nice golden colour and are cooked through. Repeat with the remaining eggplant. Set aside.
- Bring a large pan with salted water to a boil and cook the pasta of your choice according to cooking instructions, until the pasta is al dente. Choose a gluten-free variety if you are following a gluten-free diet for any reason.
While the pasta is cooking, heat a frying pan over medium-low heat and gently reheat the tomato-garlic mixture. Do not cook it! We only want to warm it up.
Bring it all together.
- Add the al dente pasta to the tomato sauce, add crumbled Greek feat cheese (or salted ricotta if you found some) a splash of red wine vinegar and mix to combine.
- Gently fold in the fried eggplant slices and some more fresh basil leaves. Season with salt and pepper, pour yourself a glass of Pinot Grigio and enjoy a delicious Italian meal.
Watch the video in the recipe card below to see how I make penne con melanzane.
How to serve
This pasta with eggplant is a complete dish. It has it all, carbs, proteins and fat. If you want to add something to the meal after all, an arugula salad with grated parmesan and grilled pear will be a good match.
You can also prepare penne con melanzane in advance and take it with you to a barbecue party. It tastes delicious at room temperature and makes a great salad.
How to store
This Italian pasta dish certainly taste the best when fresh. But if you happened to have some leftovers refrigerate them in an airtight container and enjoy a quick salad the next day.
Some frequently asked questions
No, you can just go ahead and fry the eggplant slices immediately. The modern eggplants don't taste bitter as they used to and to salt them before cooking is not necessary.
Yes, you can. The taste won't be as fresh as you will have with fresh tomatoes, but it will taste great nevertheless.
You can try using pecorino or just Parmesan cheese if you can't find any salted ricotta or Greek feta cheese. A mozzarella cheese will work too.
As all recipes on this blog, this eggplant pasta is gluten-free. Just choose the gluten-free pasta variety, the sauce does not contain any gluten. Enjoy!
More simple eggplant recipes
More simple Italian recipes?
- QUICK CREAMY PESTO PASTA RECIPE one of the most popular Italian pasta dishes on the planet.
- PASTA WITH ROASTED CHERRY TOMATOES called spaghetti con pomodorini in Italian and if you like the tomato and parmesan combination you should give it a go.
- HEALTHY TUSCAN GARLIC CHICKEN is your go-to if you feel like some chicken for dinner.
Pasta con melanzane recipe - eggplant pasta
- 1 medium sized eggplant sliced into 5 mm (0.2 inches) slices
- 4 large ripe tomatoes
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 bunch fresh basil
- olive oil for shallow frying
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 300 grams pasta of your choice
- 80 grams ricotta salata or Greek feta cheese
- Peel the tomatoes: prick the toamto skin with a sharp knife and place them in bowl with boiling water. Take the tomatoes out in a couple of minutes and let them cool down. Once cool enough to handle, slip off the skin. It will come off very easily.
- Dice the peeled tomatoes and put them in a large bowl.
- Peel and mince the garlic and add the garlic paste to the diced tomatoes along with basil leaves, red wine vinegar and a good pinch of sea salt. Mix everything together and set the sauce aside.
- Heat some olive oil in a large frying pan and fry the eggplant/aubergine slices on both sides until they are nice ad golden and the eggplant is cooked through. Take the slices out, out on a plate and set aside.
- Bring a large pan of water to a boil and cook the pasta according to cooking instructions until pasta is al dente.
- While pasta is cooking put the tomato mixture into a frying pan and heat gently until hot, but not cooked.
- Drain the pasta and add it to the tomato mixture, mix to combine.
- Gently fold in the fried eggplant slices along with some fresh basil leaves.
- Serve the pasta in warm bowls with some extra feta cheese and fresh basil leaves on top.