Mangia! The Story of Sicily's Pasta alla Norma
Sicily is world-renowned for its distinctive and delicious cuisine, and one of the most characteristic dishes is pasta alla Norma. This pasta can be found all over the island, and is made with eggplant, fresh basil,and ricotta salata, or “salted ricotta,” a traditional regional cheese that is pressed, dried and aged for at least three months, to give it a nutty, sweet, milky flavor.
Pasta alla Norma has a story almost as great as its taste. The dish is undoubtedly named for Vicenzo Bellini, a native of Catania, and his masterpiece opera, Norma. There are two main stories of how the dish received its name, however. The first is that a Sicilian chef was so moved upon seeing Bellini’s Norma, he immediately returned to his kitchen and created this tasty pasta.
The second, and more probable, states that some of Bellini’s compatriots were so impressed by the opera that they began using the superlative una vera Norma, “a real Norma,” to indicate something exceptional or superior. Years later, when author Nino Martaglio first tasted this traditional Sicilian dish, he praised it by naming it “pasta alla Norma.” The result is a typical, delicious Sicilian dish that is as representative of the local culture as it is of the local cuisine.
Want to make pasta all Norma for the folks at home? Here's a recipe.
-- Cailin Birch