AS I WONDERED which recipe to share with you this week, I asked the staff at Amici what some of their favourite dishes were growing up.

When Aurelio mentioned a local speciality that his mamma would make for him when he was growing up in Sicily, I knew that it would be perfect because it’s a quick and simple recipe that requires a few inexpensive ingredients to achieve a perfect combination of Mediterranean flavours.

The intriguingly titled Pasta alla Norma originates from Catania in Sicily, and not only did it sound absolutely delicious, but it left me curious about the origin of the dish and so I was keen to find out more.

It is said that Pasta alla Norma gets its name from Vincenzo Bellini's opera, Norma.

As the story goes, 19th century Italian writer Nino Martoglio was so impressed when he first tried the dish, that he compared it to Bellini's masterpiece and the name just stuck.

Another version of events is that Bellini would frequently go to the same restaurant and order the pasta dish while he was writing Norma and so the owner finally named the dish after the opera as an homage to Bellini.

The title character in Norma is a Druid priestess who has betrayed both her people and her religion, only to be betrayed by her Roman lover.

Pasta alla Norma, however, is not a tragedy. It’s an easy to prepare vegetarian dish that you can whip up at home in under an hour, perfect for enjoying al fresco now that the warm, light summer nights are upon us.

Pasta alla Norma is a rustic dish that will transport you to Sicily. In fact, it is said that at the time the dish was created, it used to be presented in the shape of a volcano.

The pasta was piled up like a mountain on top of the chopped aubergine, with the lava-like tomato sauce poured all over and the grated cheese like snow on the top, perfectly representing Sicily’s Mount Etna.

The dish boasts rich colours and an interesting combination of flavours. Aubergines serve as a great meat substitute if you’re preparing vegetarian dishes.

As with many Italian classic regional dishes, recipes will vary from person to person, with different families believing the dish should be prepared in different ways.

Those who like their pasta with a bit of a kick will add chilli flakes, and although most recipes call for the aubergine to be chopped into baton shapes, some prefer their aubergine to be cubed so that it is smaller.

Traditional recipes call for ricotta salata (salted ricotta) cheese to be used to top the dish – its pungent crumbly texture is perfect for Pasta alla Norma - however this ingredient is not always readily available if you’re picking up the ingredients for the dish in your local supermarket.

You can easily substitute the salted ricotta for either pecorino or Parmesan cheese, and still achieve that delicious, authentic Italian flavour.