Pasta alla Norma, also known as Pasta Ncasciata, is a traditional Sicilian dish that is said to have originated in Catania and Messina, located on the east coast of the island of Sicily, Italy. In this article, I explain, how to prepare the Montalbano Pasta Ncasciata Recipe, step-by-step.
Pasta alla Norma known as Pasta Ncasciata
The Pasta Ncasciata became internationally known thanks to the Italian TV series Inspector Montalbano.
The name “Pasta alla Norma” is said to have been named after the opera “Norma” by the famous Sicilian composer Vincenzo Bellini. According to legend, the dish was so delicious that it was likened to the beautiful aria “Casta Diva” in the opera.
The dish is made with pasta, fried aubergine, and tomato sauce topped with ricotta salata.
Ricotta Salata Cheese (Salted Ricotta Cheese)
Besides the vegetables that are ingredients of this Sicilian Pasta, the Salted Ricotta Cheese gives a particular taste to the Pasta Ncasciata.
Ricotta Salata is a traditional cheese of Sicily and also other regions of southern Italy like Sardinia, Calabria, and Basilicata. It’s made from sheep’s milk ricotta, and it’s considered a traditional and typical product of this region.
Salted Ricotta Cheeseis made by pressing, salting, and aging sheep’s milk ricotta. The cheese is firm and has a sweet, nutty, and slightly tangy flavor and a crumbly texture. The rind is thin and edible, with a pale yellow color.
This type of ricotta is usually used as a topping for pasta dishes like Pasta alla Norma (Pasta Ncasciata), or as a topping for pizza. It can also be grated over risotto or salads. It’s also a great addition to sandwiches or as a snack cheese, it can be enjoyed on its own with a glass of wine.
Furthermore, it is a versatile cheese that can be used in both sweet and savory dishes, and it is a popular ingredient in Sicilian and southern Italian cuisine. Traditionally it is made with sheep milk, but now it’s also made with cow milk, which gives a milder taste.
Substitutes for Ricotta Salata (Salted Ricotta Cheese) Outside Italy
Although the taste of salted ricotta is quite unique as it is a typical Sicilian cheese, it can be a bit difficult to find in different countries. Some of the cheeses that can be a good substitute for ricotta salata outside Italy to cook the Montalbano Pasta Ncasciata Recipe are:
- Feta: Feta is a crumbly, salty, and tangy cheese that is made from sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep’s and goat’s milk.
- Pecorino Romano: Pecorino Romano is a hard, salty sheep’s milk cheese that is commonly used in Italian cooking.
- Cotija: Cotija is a Mexican cheese that is similar to Queso fresco in texture but has a stronger, saltier flavor.
- Cașcaval: Cascaval is a traditional cheese from Romania, made from sheep and cow milk, it has a strong, salty flavor and a crumbly texture.
The Montalbano Pasta Ncasciata Recipe is considered to be one of the most representative and traditional Sicilian dishes, and it is enjoyed throughout the island and even around the world. It’s considered a prime example of Sicilian cuisine, as it uses aubergines as the main ingredient, which is a vegetable that is widely used in Sicilian cuisine.
Even though it’s thought to be originated in Catania, it’s a very popular dish in other regions of Sicily as well, and it’s made with slight variations. Therefore, in some regions, it may include capers or anchovies.
Montalbano Pasta Ncasciata Recipe
How To Make the Montalbano Pasta Ncasciata? Here is a basic recipe for making Pasta Ncasciata:
Montalbano Pasta Ncasciata Recipe: Ingredients
- 1 pound of pasta (traditionally, spaghetti or rigatoni)
- 2 medium aubergines (eggplants)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Flour, for dusting
- Olive oil, for frying
- 1 can of peeled tomatoes
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons of chopped basil leaves
- Ricotta salata, grated (for topping)
Montalbano Pasta Ncasciata Recipe: Instructions
First, peel the aubergines and cut them into slices. Sprinkle them with salt and let them sit for 30 minutes to draw out the bitter juices. Rinse the aubergine slices and pat them dry with paper towels.
Then, dust the aubergine slices with flour and fry them in hot olive oil until they are golden brown. Drain on paper towels and set aside.
Secondly, in a pan, sauté the chopped onion and minced garlic until they are softened. Add the canned tomatoes, basil leaves, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 20-25 minutes, until the sauce has thickened.
Cook the spaghetti or rigatoni according to the package instructions. Then, drain and reserve a cup of pasta water.
In a baking dish, layer the fried aubergine on the bottom. Then, add a layer of pasta, and top with some tomato sauce.
Continue repeating the layers until you’ve used up all the ingredients. Make sure to end with a layer of tomato sauce on top.
Add reserved pasta water if it seems dry and bakes in the preheated oven at 180 C for 20-25 minutes.
Lastly, once out of the oven, add grated ricotta salata or its substitute cheese I recommended on top and serve.
This recipe is a basic guide for making Montalbano Pasta Ncasciata Recipe.
Also, you can have variations with different types of pasta, or due to the ingredients and influence of Sicilian regions, add in some nuts, anchovies, sardines, etc. But keep in mind that traditional Montalbano Pasta Ncasciata is vegetarian.
For more Inspector Montalbano Recipes, by following the link to these articles.
Montalbano Recipes with fish and seafood recipes are included in our article Montalbano Fish Recipes.
Learn how to prepare Montalbano Arancini Recipe (Montalbano’s croquettes with rice)