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This post is sponsored by DeLallo, who I am thrilled to partner with throughout 2023! DeLallo is my longtime go-to for Italian pantry essentials like beautiful bronze die pasta & the best jarred marinara sauce! All thoughts & opinions are my own.
- This Low-Fuss Weeknight Dinner is Like a Lazy Girl Pasta alla Norma!
- Spicy Eggplant Pasta Recipe Highlights
- All About Pasta Alla Norma
- Key Ingredients
- How to Roast Eggplant
- Eggplant Pasta Assembly
- Serving Suggestions
This Low-Fuss Weeknight Dinner is Like a Lazy Girl Pasta alla Norma!
One of my all-time favorite pasta dishes is Pasta alla Norma, an iconic Sicilian pasta with eggplant. The only downside? Pasta alla Norma is typically made by sautéing eggplant in oil on a hot stovetop, a method I find pretty fussy – in my experience, it’s messy, time-consuming, & often results in soggy, oil-laden eggplant. Far too much effort & far too little reward!
This Spicy Eggplant Pasta recipe takes all the best elements of the classic pasta dish, but I’ve streamlined it quite a bit so prep is especially quick & simple:
- First, the eggplant. Rather than sautéing, the eggplant is roasted in an especially hot oven, a hands-off method that guarantees a beautifully browned & crispy result. It’s a simple swap that makes the whole dish so much easier – plus, no soggy fried eggplant, ever! 🙅🏻♀️
- Second, the spicy eggplant pasta sauce. Rather than whipping up a homemade tomato sauce from scratch, I start with my favorite light & fresh jarred marinara sauce, zhuzhing it up a little bit with a quick garlic & red pepper flake-infused olive oil. The infused oil layers the sauce with extra depth, so you get the best of both worlds – the convenience of store-bought sauce + a good punch of fresh aromatic flavor!
From there, simply toss it all together with your favorite pasta, fresh basil, & grated parmesan cheese. The result is a meatless pasta dinner that’s light & fresh but also super satisfying thanks to the hearty roasted eggplant. Everything there is to love about pasta alla Norma, in 45 minutes or less!
Spicy Eggplant Pasta Recipe Highlights
As soon as you try pasta with eggplant, you’re going to be hooked! It’s…
EGGPLANT HEAVEN. Roasting eggplant in the oven creates the best browned & crisp results – never soggy! – & gives this meatless pasta dish a delicious hearty texture. A great recipe for using up your summer eggplant harvest!
LIGHT & FRESH. Zhuzh up your favorite jarred marinara sauce with garlic & red pepper flake-infused olive oil, then toss in the roasted eggplant & plenty of fresh basil. The result is a beautifully light & fresh-tasting eggplant pasta sauce, all with the convenience of store-bought!
NO-FUSS. This eggplant pasta recipe is super quick & simple compared to traditional pasta alla Norma. Hands-off roasting of the eggplant & simple shortcuts like jarred tomato sauce create a delicious meal in 45 minutes or less!
A lazy girl-approved solution for all of your pasta alla Norma cravings! 💁🏻♀️ ♡ Read on to learn more about how to make this Spicy Eggplant Pasta, or jump straight to the recipe & get cooking!
All About Pasta Alla Norma
Pasta alla Norma, a classic Sicilian dish, is one of my absolute favorite pastas! Originating in Catania, a Sicilian port city, pasta alla Norma traditionally relies on 4 key ingredients: eggplant, fresh tomatoes, basil, & ricotta salata. While it’s a naturally vegetarian dish, the hearty eggplant gives it a rich, meaty texture – the perfect contrast to the light & fresh tomato sauce. It’s absolutely heavenly!
But why is it called pasta alla Norma? ⇢ Turns out “Norma” is a reference to an opera, not a person! Legend has it that the Canatese composer, playwright, & poet Nino Martogolio ate a bite of this pasta with eggplant dish & exclaimed, “Chista è ‘na vera Norma!” Translation: “This is a true Norma!” He was comparing the dish to a popular opera of the same name by Catania native Vincenzo Bellini. “This is a Norma!” was his way of saying, “This is a masterpiece!”
This particular spicy eggplant pasta recipe takes a lot of inspiration from classic pasta alla Norma, straying from tradition in 3 key ways:
- First, a true pasta alla Norma begins by sautéing eggplant on the stovetop to build the spicy eggplant pasta sauce. After years of trial & error, I’ve come to prefer roasting the eggplant in an especially hot oven. It’s a completely hands-off approach resulting in eggplant that’s perfectly crispy & browned – never soggy!
- Second, pasta alla Norma’s tomato sauce is typically made from scratch with fresh tomatoes, garlic, chilies, & oregano, resulting in an especially light & fresh-tasting eggplant pasta sauce that really highlights the meaty texture of eggplant. For convenience & ease, I start with my favorite light & fresh jarred marinara sauce, quickly zhuzhing it up with garlic & red pepper flake-infused olive oil. This semi-homemade approach gives you the best of both worlds – the convenience of store-bought sauce + a good punch of fresh aromatic flavor!
- Third, the use of ricotta salata is essential for an authentic pasta alla Norma. Ricotta salata is a Sicilian aged ricotta cheese with firm texture & salty flavor. I’ve never been able to find it easily here in the States, so I opt for more accessible parmesan cheese.
Like many iconic Italian dishes, this spicy eggplant pasta recipe relies on just a handful of simple pantry staples that come together to create tons of fresh flavor. The line-up of ingredients is inspired by traditional pasta alla Norma, but a few smart shortcuts help keep prep simple & quick.
Note: Full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.
- Eggplant – The star of the show! This eggplant pasta recipe is best when you can use in-season, end-of-summer eggplant. Look for eggplants that are small to medium-sized, which are more flavorful & tender than larger eggplants.
- Tomato sauce – Use your favorite jarred tomato sauce for a quick & easy shortcut. I’m obsessed with DeLallo’s Pomodoro Fresca Marinara. Compared to other jarred marinara sauces, it’s especially light & fresh-tasting.
- Olive oil – Quickly infusing olive oil with garlic & crushed red pepper chili flakes is an easy way to zhuzh up store-bought tomato sauce for an even bigger punch of flavor. Use a good extra-virgin olive oil here – my favorite is DeLallo EVOO, which is rich, robust, & made from cold-pressed 100% Italian olives.
- Fresh basil – Another great end-of-summer ingredient! Our basil is always bursting from the garden this time of year & this spicy eggplant pasta is the perfect way to put it to use.
- Cheese – Traditional pasta alla Norma is served with rich & salty ricotta salata – feel free to use it if you can find it! Otherwise, another salty cheese like parmesan or pecorino romano works beautifully.
- Pasta – A thick, tubular pasta works best since its hollow center traps the eggplant pasta sauce, giving each bite meaty texture & a burst of aromatic flavor – so good! I really like DeLallo’s new Tortiglioni, which is kind of like twisted rigatoni – it’s a hollow, tubular pasta with ridges running around each piece in a spiral, rather than a straight line. Penne pasta, fusilli, & mezze rigatoni are also great options.
Eggplant is one of the superstars of the late summer harvest, bursting from gardens between August & October. We highly encourage you to make this spicy eggplant pasta recipe when eggplant is in season, when its flavors & textures are at their peak.
There are lots of different eggplant varieties to choose from this time of year & each one has its own unique qualities. A few suggestions:
- Globe eggplant (aka, American eggplant) is probably the option you picture when you think of eggplant. 🍆 Deep purple & round, globe eggplants have a great meaty texture & are super versatile. Since it’s the variety most readily available to me, I use globe eggplants for everything from Eggplant Lasagna to this Spicy Eggplant Pasta recipe.
- Graffiti eggplant (aka, Sicilian eggplant) has beautiful purple & white stripes when raw & is another meaty, super versatile variety. If you can find them, they’re obviously a great choice for this Sicilian-inspired pasta dish!
- Italian eggplant has a similar round shape & deep color as the globe eggplant but is much smaller & sweeter. Its flesh is even more tender than global eggplant, which makes it fantastic in a lot of Italian dishes like pasta alla Norma!
How to Roast Eggplant
Unlike sautéing, roasting is a low-fuss method that yields beautifully browned, crispy eggplant that’s never soggy or bogged down in oil. Plus it’s hands-off cooking at its finest! No need to stand over a hot stove on a hot day. 🥵
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Prepare the eggplant. You don’t have to peel the eggplant, though you can if you want to. Eggplant skin is edible & tender, & I love how it adds a nice textural bite to the softer flesh. Simply dice the eggplant into 1-inch cubes & spread it across 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, lightly drizzling with olive oil & generously seasoning with salt. Why? ⇢ Spongy eggplant is full of natural moisture, which needs space to release as it cooks. Crowding the eggplant on one sheet pan traps all of the steam, which inhibits browning & results in a soft, soggy texture. Spacing things out on 2 pans yields the perfectly crispy results we’re after!
Roast the eggplant. Place the eggplant in a 450-degree oven, arranging the sheet pans such that 1 is on a rack in the top third of the oven & 1 is on a rack in the lower third. Roast for 25-30 minutes, rotating the pans between the racks halfway through. Why? ⇢ Hot air circulates differently on each level of your oven! Moving the pans helps promote even cooking so all the eggplant gets perfectly golden-brown.
Tips & Tricks for Never-Soggy Eggplant
Nailing the texture of cooked eggplant can be tricky. So how do you make sure eggplant does not get soggy? I think roasting (vs. sautéing) is the ultimate cooking method, which is why I use it when I make anything from Eggplant Lasagna to pasta with eggplant. A few essential tips to keep in mind…
- Use fresh, in-season eggplant, which has the best possible texture & flavor! Eggplant is in peak season between August & October. Pick it from your garden or hunt for it at the farmer’s market.
- Make sure your oven is HOT! Roasting the eggplant at 450 degrees F ensures the eggplant quickly gets perfectly browned & crispy – never soggy!
- Go light on the olive oil. Spongy eggplant soaks up moisture very easily, so be sure to use just enough olive oil to season the eggplant without drenching it. This spicy eggplant pasta recipe only uses about 2 tablespoons of oil per medium eggplant.
- Give it space to roast evenly. Use 2 sheet pans if you must! The eggplant needs lots of room to release its moisture without steaming.
Eggplant Pasta Assembly
While the eggplant roasts hands-off in the oven, you’ll have the perfect window of time to prep the spicy tomato sauce & pasta. From there, the eggplant pasta comes together very quickly.
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Cook the pasta. For optimal timing, get the pasta going once the eggplant is in the oven. Be sure to salt your boiling water generously, then cook the pasta to al dente according to the packaging directions. Don’t forget to reserve some starchy pasta cooking water for later, then drain (but do not rinse!). Learn more! ⇢ How to Cook Pasta Perfectly Every Single Time!
Prepare the eggplant pasta sauce. Heat the olive oil in a pan on the stovetop with garlic & crushed red pepper flakes. Cook for a few minutes until fragrant. Pour the jarred tomato sauce into the garlic-infused oil, allowing it all to gently simmer together. Why? ⇢ Aromatic olive oil gives store-bought tomato sauce an easy boost of flavor! (Easy Alternative! ⇢ Try our 15-Minute San Marzano Sauce.)
Finish the pasta with eggplant. Add the cooked pasta & roasted eggplant to the garlicky tomato sauce, tossing until everything is evenly coated. Add some fresh basil & grated parmesan cheese. Let the pasta cook with the vegetables & tomato sauce over medium-low heat fo a few minutes, until combined & cohesive. Tip! ⇢ Adjust your eggplant pasta to taste, adding a splash of the reserved pasta water to loosen things up a bit or a handful of parmesan to help it all bind together.
Vegetarian & Vegan Eggplant Pasta Variations
While this spicy eggplant pasta is a naturally meatless recipe, the use of parmesan cheese does not necessarily make it vegetarian. Why? ⇢ Like many hard cheeses, parmesan is traditionally made with an animal enzyme known as rennet. Rennet is essential in the cheese-making process, typically added after heating cow’s milk to kickstart the separation process.
You can easily make this eggplant pasta recipe vegetarian or vegan by simply choosing another cheese:
- For a vegetarian eggplant pasta, use rennet-free parmesan.
- For a vegan eggplant pasta, swap in your favorite dairy-free parmesan.
I love topping each bowl of spicy eggplant pasta with more grated parmesan & fresh basil. Serve alongside some crusty bread to soak up the sauce & a simple green salad for a bit of freshness. Simple, fresh, delicious, perfect! 👌🏼
Leftovers? ⇢ Keep any leftovers in the fridge for 2-3 days. For best results, reheat on the stovetop with a splash of water to loosen up the eggplant pasta sauce. Check the Recipe Notes, below, for more guidance!
I can’t wait for you to try this Spicy Eggplant Pasta recipe – it’s such an easy way to satisfy pasta alla Norma cravings any night of the week! I love how much it reminds me of my favorite pasta dinner & I’m sure you’ll love it too!
If you do give it a try, be sure to let us know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. We LOVE seeing your PWWB creations! ♡ Happy cooking!Print
Inspired by iconic Sicilian Pasta alla Norma, this Spicy Eggplant Pasta recipe is especially foolproof thanks to 2 flavor-boosting shortcuts:
- Eggplant: Rather than sautéing eggplant on the stovetop to build the spicy eggplant pasta sauce, I prefer to roast it in a super hot oven, a completely hands-off approach that results in perfectly crispy & browned eggplant.
- Sauce: While pasta alla Norma’s spicy tomato sauce is traditionally made with fresh tomatoes, garlic, chilies, & oregano, I like to start with my favorite light & fresh jarred marinara sauce, quickly zhuzhing it up with garlic & red pepper flake-infused olive oil. This semi-homemade approach gives you the best of both worlds – the convenience of store-bought sauce + a good punch of fresh aromatic flavor!
Simply toss it all together with your favorite pasta, fresh basil, & grated parmesan cheese for a meatless pasta dinner that’s light & fresh but also super satisfying. Everything there is to love about pasta alla Norma, in 45 minutes or less! ♡ Happy cooking!
- 2 medium eggplants, diced into 1-inch cubes (approx. 2 pounds, see Recipe Notes)
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 8 ounces tortiglioni or pasta of choice
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
- up to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 cups tomato sauce, use your favorite jarred marinara sauce or make our 15-Minute Homemade Tomato Sauce (see Recipe Notes)
- 1 cup packed basil leaves, sliced fine
- ½ cup finely grated parmesan (see Recipe Notes)
- kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season
- for serving, as desired: additional grated cheese, chopped parsley or basil, crushed red pepper flakes, etc.
- Prep: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, ensuring one rack is positioned in the top third of the oven & a second rack is positioned in the lower third. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper for easy clean up. Transfer the diced eggplant to the two prepared sheets. Drizzle ¼ cup of olive oil over top (about 2 tablespoons per baking sheet), then season well with kosher salt & ground black pepper. Toss to combine, then spread the eggplant into an even layer across both baking sheets.
- Roast the eggplant: Transfer the eggplant to the oven, placing one baking sheet on the top rack & one baking sheet on the lower rack. Roast 25-30 minutes, rotating the baking sheets & switching the oven racks about halfway through, until the eggplant is tender & deeply browned. Remove from the oven & set aside.
- Boil the pasta: Meanwhile, as the eggplant roasts, boil the pasta – I suggest boiling the water as soon as you place the eggplant in the oven. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. About 10 minutes before the eggplant is finished roasting, drop the pasta. Cook to al dente according to package directions, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Once cooked, carefully dip a liquid measuring cup into the pot to reserve about 1 cup of the starchy pasta water, & set aside. Carefully drain the pasta. (Learn more! ⇢ How to Cook Pasta Perfectly Every Single Time!)
- Heat the sauce: About 10 minutes before the eggplant is finished roasting, heat the tomato sauce. To a large skillet over medium heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, & crushed red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring often, until the garlic is golden & fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Carefully pour in the tomato sauce, stirring well to combine with the garlic-infused oil. Reduce heat to low to maintain a gentle simmer.
- Finish the spicy eggplant pasta: To the skillet with the warm tomato sauce, add the drained pasta & roasted eggplant, along with the thinly sliced basil & grated parmesan. Toss to combine well – the sauce should evenly coat the pasta & eggplant. Add in some of the reserved pasta water if the sauce needs to loosen up a little; add in an extra handful of parmesan if it needs to tighten up more. Cook 1-2 minutes longer, allowing the pasta to meld with the sauce, then remove from the heat.
- Serve: Portion the spicy eggplant pasta into individual bowls, topping with additional grated parmesan or chopped fresh herbs as desired. Serve immediately. Enjoy!
- Jess’ Notes & Tips:
- Eggplant: Eggplant is the star of the show here! For best results, use small-to-medium summer eggplant, which is more tender, more flavorful, & better textured than off-season or large eggplant.
- Tomato sauce: Feel free to use your favorite tomato sauce for this roasted eggplant pasta recipe. If you’re in the mood for something quick & convenient, jarred pasta sauce works great – my favorite is DeLallo’s Pomodoro Fresco Marinara, which has really nice light texture & fresh flavor. If you’d like to whip up a quick batch of homemade tomato sauce, my 15-Minute Tomato Sauce is the best. It’s made with 6 simple ingredients & you can easily simmer it up while the eggplant is roasting. You’ll use about ½ a batch for this eggplant pasta recipe – feel free to reserve the rest for another use.
- Recipe variations: This roasted eggplant pasta recipe is naturally meatless. To ensure it’s vegetarian, be sure to use your favorite rennet-free parmesan. To take it a step further & make it vegan & dairy-free, opt for your favorite non-dairy parmesan.
- Storage & Reheating: Leftover roasted eggplant pasta will keep, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for 2-3 days. Reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave, adding an extra splash of water or cooking stock to loosen up the eggplant sauce as needed, until warmed through.
Recipe and Food Styling by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Rachel Cook, Half Acre House.