Colm O'Gorman's perfect Pasta alla Norma

The secret is cooking the aubergine in the air fryer
Colm O'Gorman's perfect Pasta alla Norma

A classic from Sicily.

I have a lovely Italian pasta recipe for you this week, a classic from Sicily. Pasta all Norma is a simple but delicious dish of aubergines in a classic marinara sauce made with tomatoes and basil. I have also added some chilli flakes and chopped capers to my recipe as I love the little bit of complexity of flavour that they bring. You can skip those if you like, but I highly recommend you try them.

I use rigatoni for my Pasta alla Norma. I like the size and texture of it in this dish, but you can use pretty much any pasta shape. Penne, macaroni, or spaghetti would all work well. Try and use bronze cut pasta if you can. This is pasta that has been cut with bronze metal plates which give the pasta a rougher, more porous finish which absorbs more sauce and helps enhance the flavour and texture of your dish. 

Most of the supermarkets stock it now, including Aldi and Lidl, so it is very readily available. You can of course use regular pasta if that is what you have in your cupboard. Traditionally the aubergine for this recipe is fried in oil. As aubergine absorbs a lot of oil, this can make the final dish quite heavy for my taste. I air fry or oven roast my aubergine instead which I find works beautifully.

Some recipes also say that you should salt and soak the aubergines to remove any bitterness before cooking them, but that really is not necessary. Modern varieties of aubergine are no longer that bitter, especially if they are nice and fresh, so I never bother with that step.

Pasta alla Norma is usually made with ricotta salata, a pressed and salted version of ricotta. That can be a little tricky to get hold of locally, so I use Gran Padano cheese instead. It has a lovely nutty flavour, is less salty than parmesan and is widely available. 

If you want to make this dish vegetarian, just swap the Gran Padano for some vegetarian parmesan. I serve my Pasta all Norma with a fresh green salad and garlic bread. It is a lovely comforting, delicious dinner.

Pasta alla Norma

recipe by:Colm O'Gorman

The secret is cooking the aubergine in the air fryer

Pasta alla Norma



Preparation Time

20 mins

Cooking Time

25 mins

Total Time

45 mins






  • 2 aubergines
  • ½ an onion

  • 3 cloves of garlic

  • 1 tsp chilli flakes (optional)

  • 1 tsp dried oregano

  • 2 tins cherry tomatoes

  • 20g capers (optional)

  • 20g fresh basil

  • 300g dried rigatoni pasta

  • 75g Gran Padano cheese

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • Juice of half a lemon

  • Extra virgin olive oil

  • To Serve:

  • A few spoons of ricotta (optional)

  • Some fresh basil leaves


  1. Wash the aubergines and remove the stalks.

  2. Cut them into 2cm dice, pop those into a bowl and toss them in two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Cook the aubergine in an air fryer at 190 Celsius for fifteen to twenty minutes, tossing regularly to ensure they are cooked and golden brown all over.

  3. If you do not have an air fryer, you can roast them in an oven at 200 Celsius. Just lay them out in a single layer on a baking tray and roast them for about thirty minutes, turning them halfway though, until they are golden brown all over.

  4. Finely chop the onion. Peel and finely chop the garlic. Roughly chop the capers. Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a large pan over a high heat. When it is good and hot, reduce the heat to medium/low and add the onion. Sauté for two minutes, stirring regularly and then add the garlic.

  5. Cook for one more minute and add the chill flakes, oregano, and the capers. Stir those in and add the tomatoes. Take half of the basil, stalks included and lightly bruise the stalks with a spoon. Add to the pan and stir well.

  6. Bring to a soft boil and reduce to a simmer. Pop on a lid and allow the sauce to simmer away for ten to fifteen minutes until the tomatoes break down and the sauce thickens.

  7. While the sauce is simmering away, cook the pasta. Add the rigatoni, or whatever pasta you are using, to a large pan of boiling salted water.

  8. Cook according to the instructions on the packet, for rigatoni, you want to allow ten minutes for it to be perfectly cooked but still retain a little bite.

  9. While the pasta is cooking, grate the Gran Padano cheese.

  10. By now, your aubergine should be cooked and your marinara sauce ready. Stir the sauce and break up any of the tomatoes that are still intact. I like to just crush most of them but leave a few largely intact as I love the texture that gives my sauce.

  11. Remove and discard the stalks of basil. Add the cooked aubergine and stir that through. Pop the lid back on and cook for a minute or two while you drain the pasta. Make sure to reserve a few ladles of the pasta cooking water to thin out the sauce. Return the drained cooked pasta to the pan and toss it in just a little extra virgin olive oil olive.

  12. Add about two thirds of the grated cheese to the aubergine and tomato sauce, stirring it in well. Now add a ladle or so of the starchy cooking water from the pasta to thin out the sauce and make it lovely and creamy.

  13. Chop the leaves of the remaining basil and add that to the sauce along with a generous grating of black pepper and the lemon juice. Taste and add more seasoning if needed. I find that I do not need to add extra salt as the cheese and pasta water give plenty of salty flavour to the dish.

  14. Add the sauce to the pan of cooked pasta and stir to combine. Serve immediately in warm pasta bowls or plates, scatter the last of the grated cheese on top and finish with a little fresh basil and a spoon of ricotta over each serving.

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