A classic Sicilian dish, pasta alla Norma is a great way to use up an excess of two summer stars: eggplant and fresh basil. Cooked down until lightly browned on the outside and creamy in the center, the eggplant cubes are tossed into a simple tomato sauce with pasta, then finished with salty ricotta salata cheese and a showering of basil for herby freshness. Any pasta shape works here, but we like thicker tubular shapes like calamarata or rigatoni—their hollow centers provide ample space for the sauce to hide.
The Norma in the dish’s title is the titular protagonist of an Italian opera by Vincenzo Bellini, which, like the pasta named for it, is notable for its lyric beauty. But, if you have to adjust those notes a bit (we’re talking about the pasta alla Norma recipe now), it’s pretty forgiving. Ricotta salata is the dried-out cousin of plain old milky ricotta—but don’t sub in that fresher cheese if you can’t find it. Instead, look to other dry, hard cheeses like Parmesan or Pecorino Romano. The three have vastly different flavors, but they’ll work just as well in this pasta dish.