PASTA ALLA NORMA: ORIGINAL RECIPE, HISTORY AND TRADITION
History and birth of pasta alla Norma
“Pari ‘na Norma,” you look like a Norma, is the most appreciated compliment by the fellow citizens of Bellini, the Swan of Catania. It might be considered, in a certain sense, to contemporary social appreciation: you’re the top!
Different times, different cultural references and different exclamations of astonishment (Baricco is right when, in his essay “I Barbari,” borrowed from Walter Benjamin, associates our era with the period following the fall of the Roman Empire).
In the ’20s, instead, from Via Etnea, comes that amazing smell of aubergine: “Signora Saridda, chista è ‘na vera Norma!” (Mrs. Saridda, this is’ a true Norma!). The journalist and playwright Nino Martoglio, stated this, clearly referring to the immortal work of the fellow citizen of Catania.
At the home of the actor Musco and his sister Anna married Pandolfini, we see the birth of this pasta and its name.
Donna Saridda brought to the table spaghetti with tomato sauce, basil, fried aubergines, and grated ricotta salata. The immortality was assured by a descent into salt and boiling water.
This is what the legend tells. Martoglio was celebrated, even if it is likely that the people called “alla Norma” the best of the Catania’s pasta, naturally in honor of Vincenzo Bellini.
Pasta and opera
Bellini’s “Norma,” coldly welcomed at the beginning, soon became his greatest success.
The great Maria Callas recorded it twice, in 1954 and 1960.
But opera and pasta are also tied for another reason: it seems that pasta alla norma was publicly served on the same evening during the world premiere of Bellini’s opera, on December 26, 1831.
Finally, (and we saw that coming) someone claims that the “pasta câ norma” was invented in honor of the composer to whom the theater of Catania is dedicated.
The ingredients of pasta alla norma
The story is a layer of tar: below is the original recipe (or sources, if you prefer). Above the superfetation and the arbitrariness of contemporaries (or historians).
Among the many variations, however, the real norma is only one. Let’s see what the ingredients for 4 people are:
400 g of macaroni or rigatoni (short pasta is better, in Trapani is used the ‘busiata’)
200g ricotta salata
Pasta alla norma, the recipe
It is essential to know how to fry the aubergines. Once cut into slices, sprinkle with coarse salt and put under a weight for 30 minutes / 1 hour. So they will lose fluids and will be crispy when fried.
The sheep ricotta, then, must be salted and very seasoned. It is mandatory. The opposite would be blasphemy. On the contrary, it would be cooking something else: if for Negroni there is also the “wrong” version, for pasta alla Norma there is only a wrong pasta-without-quotes. The baked ricotta, another variation on the theme, is not traditional.
For the other ingredients, the usual 4 rules are valid: freshness, quality, territory, size.
Here, finally, the procedure explained step by step:
Start by preparing the sauce and cook for 20 minutes with oil, garlic, and onion. About the onion/garlic is debated as much as it happens for the carbonara. Be aware, however, that the onion is used in the original recipes (be careful to cut it into small pieces). When cooked, add salt, pepper, and basil.
In the meantime, once the aubergines have dried, rinse them with coarse salt, dry and fry, if possible in olive oil.
Immediately after, cook the pasta and, once drained, season with the sauce, to which you will add the fried aubergines and an abundant grated salty ricotta.
Your pasta alla Norma is served. Maybe you’re not the Callas, but your taste buds will perform great solos.
This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)