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Classic and savory Pasta alla Norma from Sicily inspired this beautiful pasta with ricotta recipe. It contains most of the same ingredients – just prepared and presented differently. Whimsical bucatini is combined with intensely-flavored slow-roasted tomatoes and eggplant then tossed with creamy ricotta and sharp pecorino. Read on to find out more!
This pasta with ricotta recipe has SICILY written all over it! But, in a different way than usual. It’s basically a twist on what is, arguably, the most famous of all Sicilian pasta dishes that is ubiquitous across the sunny Mediterranean island, Pasta alla Norma. With only three main ingredients in the sauce (eggplant, tomato and salty, crumbly ricotta salata cheese), Pasta all Norma is a favorite among Sicilians and Americans alike.
With a Twist . . .
While I love the flavors and textures of the classic pasta recipe, I wanted to create something slightly different. While the eggplant is usually fried and the tomatoes are generally sautéed and saucy in the traditional dish, I have, instead, slow-roasted them here to really concentrate and strengthen their flavor while removing most of their inherent moisture. And, I added creamy and rich whole milk ricotta cheese at the end to bring it all together, as opposed to sharper and drier ricotta salata. To round out the flavors of the pasta with ricotta dish, I folded in a healthy dose of sharp and salty Pecorino Romano cheese, which works well in so many pasta dishes.
Finally, I used one of my favorite pasta shapes of late, bucatini! Long and chunky with a hole (“buca“) down the middle, I love its texture and mouth feel and felt that it would work well with the textures in this dish. You can certainly feel free to substitute any long or short, chunky pasta as you wish, though.
Something to Note . . .
I wanted to point out that, even though there is no meat or fish in this dish, this pasta recipe is not technically vegetarian because of the addition of the pecorino cheese. Real Pecorino Romano cheese must be made with lamb rennet paste and is, therefore, not vegetarian. However, you can easily make this this dish vegetarian-friendly by leaving out the pecorino or using a vegetarian alternative.
To make this Pasta with Ricotta, we will be using the following ingredients:
- Eggplant: Any eggplant variety will do well in this recipe. I have never found it necessary to salt and drain eggplant when slow-roasting it as I do in this recipe, but, if you prefer to salt your eggplant, that is completely fine.
- Tomatoes: I used grape tomatoes in this recipe as I love their year-round sweetness. However, any tomato will work really well. If you use a really large and juicy tomato, though, such as a beefsteak tomato, you will need to remove some of the pulp and seeds as there will just be too much moisture to properly roast and caramelize them for this dish. Like the eggplant, slow-roast the tomatoes for two hours to really deepen their flavor.
- Pasta: I used bucatini and I think it works really well with the textures in this dish. (Plus, it is just really fun to eat bucatini, in my opinion!) But, other long and chunky short pastas will work as well.
- Whole Milk Ricotta: Adds flavor, richness and creaminess to the dish. Feel free to use a part-skim ricotta as a substitute, but it will have a thinner and more watery texture than the whole milk variety. (NOTE: Be sure to bring the ricotta to room temperature before adding it to the pasta so that it will not bring down the temperature of the overall dish too much.)
- Pecorino Romano Cheese: Brings sharpness and saltiness – in a really, really good way!
The Aromatics . . .
- Garlic: No explanation necessary! Other than to say, chopped, minced or thinly sliced all work well – just depends on what you feel like doing! And, feel free to add more or use less based on your personal preference.
- Olive Oil: We will use olive oil in three different ways in this recipe.
- First, to coat the vegetables prior to roasting and, second, to sauté the garlic. For both of these steps, there’s no need to use your most expensive bottle.
- The third way that we will use olive oil in this recipe (and how I finish many of my recipes) is as a drizzle on the pasta at the very end of the cooking process and just before serving. For this, you want to use the really good, extra-virgin olive oil that adds a complementary flavor to the dish, be it fruity, peppery or grassy.
- Fresh Basil: The perfect complement to all the eggplant and tomatoes and adds a beautiful brightness to the overall dish!
- Salt: So, salt is a super-interesting ingredient and topic for me.
- These days, there are limitless varieties and textures of the stuff available from both the mountains and the sea all over the world. (And, I have about a dozen of those varieties right now in my pantry . . .) Believe it or not, they do vary in levels of saltiness!
- Having said this, all of the amounts of salt that I present here and in all of my recipes should be taken with a grain of you-know-what! But, seriously, the amount of salt in one’s dish is a highly personal preference. And, nothing can ruin a great dish like over-salting it.
- So, my suggestion is to salt, taste, salt, taste, etc. until you are satisfied.
- Black Pepper: Always to your taste and always freshly ground black pepper, if possible!
A complete and detailed list of ingredients with amounts and instructions is included in the recipe below.
Step-By-Step, Pro-Tips included!
Here are the main steps for how to make this Pasta with Ricotta:
- Prep and measure all ingredients. Be sure to rinse all vegetables before using.
- PRO-TIP: All vegetable cuts should basically be the same size, so that they all cook in the same amount of time. The last thing you want are some overcooked and some undercooked pieces of eggplant!
- Roast the eggplant and tomatoes on separate parchment-lined sheet pans. Be sure arrange the vegetables in a single-layer and to not overcrowd the pan. The parchment ensures a non-stick surface and also helps a ton with clean up!
- PRO-TIP: Salt the tomatoes and eggplant after they are finished roasting, not before. These vegetables are both high moisture and tend to steam in the oven if salted beforehand. As we are slow-roasting and aiming for a more caramelized and concentrated flavor of the vegetables in this dish, it is best to season them once they have been removed from the oven.
- Get the pasta water ready.
- PRO-TIP: Don’t skimp on the water! Use a large (7–8 quart) pot with 6 quarts water for 1 pound of pasta. And, bring the water to a boil before adding the salt. The water will boil a little more strongly for a second when you do so, and this will ensure that the salt is dissolved immediately. If you add the salt to the pot when the water is cold, it may just deposit on the bottom of the pot. Use 1 1/2–2 Tbsp salt, depending on which type used. (See comment in RECIPE INGREDIENTS above.)
- Sauté the garlic, then add the roasted veggies to the pan just to heat through.
- PRO-TIP: Combine the garlic and the oil in the pan at the same time, then slowly bring the temperature up. This will allow you to have more control over the garlic and help prevent it from burning, which is what generally happens when garlic is added to very hot oil.
- Cook the pasta most of the way (until about 2 minutes less than the package directions), then add it to the pan with some pasta water and the ricotta to finish cooking.
- Finish by folding in the pecorino, basil, salt and pepper. Serve it warm with additional fresh basil leaves.
Recipe Variations for this Pasta with Ricotta
I actually think that this Pasta with Ricotta recipe is pretty great as is, but there is always more than one way to make something. Here are a few ideas:
- Grill or Quick-Roast the Tomatoes and Eggplant: This will definitely shorten the cooking time of the overall dish significantly.
- Add a Protein: Italian sausage or shrimp are both great options.
- Make it Whole Grain or Gluten-Free: Just switch out the traditional pasta for a whole wheat or gluten-free pasta.
- Add Some Heat!: Add a pinch of crushed red pepper when sautéing the garlic.
- Try a Different Cheese or Dairy Product: Goat cheese, crème fraîche or mascarpone are all possible substitutes, each giving a completely different flavor to the dish.
What to Serve with Pasta with Ricotta
This Pasta with Ricotta is a hearty enough pasta recipe to be a Main Course for sure. But, in small portions, it can be a starter or ‘primi piatto‘.
If you are serving this as a Main Course, I suggest a light Antipasti of prosciutto di parma with melon or assorted salumi. Then, follow the meal with a light green salad with red wine vinaigrette. Dessert should be light – perhaps biscotti and coffee, mixed fruit, or lemon sorbet.
Kitchen Tools & Cookware for Pasta with Ricotta
To make this Pasta with Ricotta recipe, you will need the following:
- Cutting board with non-slip mat underneath (I use shelf liner)
- Vegetable peeler
- Sharp chef’s knife
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Multiple bowls to hold prep
- 2–4 large sheet pans
- Parchment paper
- Oven mitts
- Large (6–8 qt) pot for cooking pasta
- Colander, large mesh strainer or spider for scooping out or draining pasta
- Wooden or silicon spoons, tongs
- 10″+ sauté pan or skillet
- Large serving bowl or platter and serving utensils
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Bucatini Pasta with Ricotta, Slow-Roasted Eggplant and Tomatoes
- 2 pounds eggplant, peeled, cut into 1” chunks
- 3 pints grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in ½ lengthwise (2 ½ pounds)
- 1/3 cup olive oil, divided
- salt for pasta water (see NOTE below)
- 1 pound uncooked pasta (I used bucatini)
- 2 heaping Tbsp chopped or thinly sliced garlic
- 1 cup whole milk ricotta, at room temperature (8 ounces)
- 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- 1 large handful fresh basil, stemmed and chopped or hand-torn
- salt and black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 275◦F.
- Prep all vegetables according to specifications above.
- Roast the vegetables: Arrange the cut eggplant and tomatoes in a single layer on separate parchment-lined sheet pans. Do not overcrowd the pans. (Use 2 pans for each vegetable, if necessary.) Toss the veggies lightly with about half of the olive oil, then place on a middle oven rack for 2 hours at 275◦F, stirring once about halfway through the cooking process.
- Once the vegetables are finished, remove them from the oven and sprinkle them lightly with salt. Set aside. (NOTE: The vegetables can be done several hours or up to 1 day in advance. If doing so, hold the roasted vegetables in a sealed container under refrigeration until it is time to cook the pasta.)
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once the water comes to a boil, add salt, then the pasta, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than the package directions, or about 2 minutes before you think it is al dente. (Be sure to reserve at least 1 cup of the starchy pasta water.)
- Meanwhile, while the pasta is cooking, combine the garlic and remaining olive oil in a large skillet and heat on medium-high. Sauté for 2-3 minutes or until just starting to brown, then add the roasted vegetables to the pan, just to heat through.
- When the pasta is ready, transfer it to the skillet along with about ½ cup of the starchy pasta water (to start) and the ricotta. Stir well to fully combine all ingredients and let the pasta finish cooking in the sauce and absorb all of those wonderful flavors! Add additional pasta water if more moisture is needed.
- When the pasta is al dente, turn off the heat, then fold in the pecorino and basil, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Finish with a healthy drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
- Serve warm with additional fresh basil. Buon Appetito!
- Whether you decide to go with large or small cuts on the vegetables to be roasted, the most important thing is to keep all pieces basically the same size, so that they all cook in the same amount of time.
- Be sure to separate the eggplant and tomatoes onto different sheet pans, arrange the vegetables in a single-layer and do not overcrowd the pan.
- Salt the tomatoes and eggplant after they are finished roasting, not before, to prevent the vegetables from steaming in the oven.
- Use a large (7-8 quart) pot with 6 quarts water for 1 pound of pasta. Bring the water to a boil before adding the salt. Use 1 1/2 – 2 Tbsp salt, depending on which type used. (See comment in INGREDIENTS above.)
- Combine the garlic and the oil in the pan at the same time, then slowly bring the temperature up.
- Make sure the ricotta is room temperature before adding it to the hot pasta.
- The pasta water is key! Add it to the veggies along with the pasta and ricotta for the additional moisture needed to finish cooking the pasta.
- Don’t forget to drizzle the finished dish with some high quality extra-virgin olive oil for an additional hit of flavor and richness.
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