Italian Cooking | Oli’s pasta alla Norma vegetarian dish

While going through some Italian recipes from our amazing chef and Italian cooking holiday host, Oli, I found a classic Italian pasta dish that would be perfect for my husband (the vegetarian) and myself (a meat obsessed freak), which I could whip up with what I already had in the house.

This tomato and aubergine based sauce is a Sicilian classic that is easy to make, quick to whip up, cheap as chips and can be enhanced if you should so desire by some meat if you have it around, or any other whim that may inspire you.

The aubergine allows for a rich texture so even if you stick to the classic recipe, it is guaranteed to be an all round crowd pleaser.

Personal side note: Not only that, but it is named after my beloved Hungarian grandma, Norma, who could conquer some amazing Eastern European classics at the drop of a hat. Clearly, the name drew me to the food.

Ingredients (serves 4 people)

3 large aubergines

extra virgin olive oil

4 garlic cloves

2 x 400g tin chopped organic tomatoes

2 small handfuls of grated Parmesan cheese

2 small handful of fresh basil leaves, torn up

200-300g fresh tagliatelle, or other pasta, depending on hunger levels
(Oli says to skip the spaghetti, as you need some hardcore pasta for the heavy aubergine to stick to)

ricotta to garnish

You will need

2 large pans


Cut the aubergine into chunky slices lengthways, and those into strips. Then cut the strips into chunks, around 5cm by 2cm. There’s no real wrong or right here, if you prefer bigger chunks of aubergine that’s ok too.

bowl of pasta alla norma with fresh ricotta on topSalt the aubergine with a decent scattering of sea salt, and mix around so all the pieces have a little on them. Put in a colander and leave for a minimum of 1 hour – this will draw out excess moisture and bitterness, leaving your aubergines meatier and sweeter.

Put a couple of really good lugs of olive oil in the frying pan – you want the base to be well covered. Cook your aubergines on a medium-high heat, in two batches if there are too many for your pan, until golden and soft.

Remove the aubergines from the pan and set aside. Put another splash of oil in the pan, and pop in your peeled cloves of garlic, whole but bashed on their side a little. Fry in the oil for a few minutes on a low heat; be careful not to let them brown.

Throw in the tomatoes, aubergine and half the basil, and put on a high simmer for about 10-15 minutes. You know it’s ready when it has thickened up nicely. Remove the cloves of garlic (if you can find them!) Throw in the Parmesan cheese and mix well.

Toss your cooked pasta, (which will only take a few minutes in salted boiling water if it’s fresh), in the sauce, adding a few spoons of pasta water if it’s all looking a bit dry (you can save a mug of the pasta water for this from when you drain the pasta).

Mix well and serve with a sprinkling of ricotta over the top, and the rest of the basil.

Oli’s pairing tips

Oli’s suggests pairing the dish with a good bottle of Primitivo – a southern Italian wine with plenty of body and balls!

My low carb pairing tips

As I am on a break from the carbs for now, I found this completely delightful over pounded chicken breasts; but fresh pasta is definitely the winner for a hungry household. Perfect for the summer aubergines with some fabulous cheese.

Happy cooking!

You can find more information about Oli’s cooking and gastronomy holiday here.

Or, feel free to explore our full range of Italian cookery holidays here.