Pasta alla norma combines baked or air-fried eggplant with a homemade tomato sauce, pasta, and parmesan for a hearty, wholesome, comforting meal! Best of all, this tomato and eggplant pasta recipe is meat-free and can be made gluten-free and vegan in under 40 minutes!
Clean and dice the eggplant into around 1-inch pieces.
Drizzle with oil and toss well to coat the pieces (in a bowl or straight on a parchment-lined baking sheet).
Place the eggplant pieces in a single layer, either on a parchment-lined baking sheet or in an air fryer.Oven: Cook for 25-35 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 400ºF/200ºC, flipping once halfway.Air fryer: Cook for 15-20 minutes at 400ºF/200ºC, flipping once halfway (or at least shake the basket).There’s no need to pre-salt the eggplant unless you plan on deep frying the eggplant.
Step 2: Prepare the pasta
Meanwhile, as the eggplant cooks, cook the rigatoni pasta according to the pasta instructions. I like to undercook it by 2-3 minutes as it will cook further when combined with the sauce. That way, you can avoid over-done pasta.Make sure to save some of the pasta sauce to add to the sauce. The starch in the water will add a little silkiness, can dilute the sauce if needed, and helps it to adhere better to the pasta.
Step 3: Prepare the tomato sauce
Finely chop the onion and garlic (do this in the last 5 minutes of the eggplant baking time). Then add them to a large pre-heated skillet over medium heat and allow them to saute for 1-2 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and spices and stir well to combine before adding the peeled plum tomatoes (the sauce included). Mash the tomatoes lightly with your spoon and stir well.
I added some chopped basil stems to the sauce, too, though it’s not necessary. Then add the cooked eggplant and pasta and stir well. Give it a quick taste and adjust any of the seasonings if needed.Alternatively, you can keep the pasta to one side and serve the bowls of pasta with the tomato and eggplant pasta sauce served over the top, rather than folded with the pasta.
If you plan on serving from the skillet, you can add the basil leaves and parmesan (optional) directly to it. Otherwise, transfer the eggplant pasta to a bowl and top each with a little basil and cheese - enjoy!
Use high-quality tomatoes: These make up a majority of your sauce, so use whole tinned tomatoes like Italian San-Marzano. Whole tomatoes are usually better quality than pre-chopped/crushed.
Adjust the heat: By adjusting the amount of red pepper flakes added. You can, optionally, omit them entirely for no spice.
Save some pasta water: This will help the sauce to adhere to the pasta better and create a silkier mouth-feel to the dish.
Be careful when cooking the eggplant: Different varieties will take less/more time to cook properly, so you may need to adjust my suggested times.
Other Optional Add-ins and variations:
‘Cheat’ sauce: If you want an even quicker, more effortless pasta alla norma, then you can use a high-quality pre-made marinara sauce. Optionally tweak the flavor with a bit of garlic powder and onion powder.
Lower-carb: Feel free to swap out the pasta for vegetable noodles like zoodles or carrot noodles.
Balsamic vinegar: Just a dash of balsamic vinegar can add depth to the pasta sauce.
Tangy element: Olives are a great addition to this eggplant pasta sauce, especially if you don’t plan on using cheese. This is because the olives will add a salty element to the dish then. You could alternatively use capers.
You could also add in extra veggies, though the dish will turn away from pasta alla norma, then. My favorites include bell peppers, zucchini, spinach, etc.