With lots of caponata, grilled eggplant, ratatouille, and a double batch of eggplant parmesan under my belt, I was looking for another way to enjoy the bounty of our eggplants this season. It came in the July/August issue of Cooks Illustrated magazine, eggplant involtini.
After all these years (30+) I still look forward pouring over the latest issues of the cooking magazines I subscribe to. Since the magazines are a little in advance of what is ready to harvest from the garden, I put a yellow sticky note on the seasonal recipes I would like to try. Eggplant involtini was in the July/August issue that arrived in June when our eggplants didn’t even have their first flowers, so I have been waiting several months to try this recipe.
Involtini are neat little bundles of stuffed meat, fish or vegetables. Fillings can be as varied as your imagination. Eggplant works especially well as a wrapper for involtini. Use your largest, broadest eggplants to make the planks. Lop off the stem and hold the eggplant upright. With a very sharp knife, make approximately 1/2″ thick planks. For the first and last pieces you will need to trim off the rounded outer edge. I found that a vegetable peeler handled the problem nicely.
Instead of frying, which is called for in many involtini recipes, the slices are brushed lightly on both sides with olive oil, and seasoned with salt and pepper and baked. This makes the slices pliable enough to roll without falling apart.
Once the slices have cooled a bit, fill with the fatter edge closest to you and roll up. Ricotta, though it doesn’t have much flavor of it’s own is a good binder for the more flavorful ingredients, pecorino romano and basil. The addition of fresh lemon juice brightens the flavors. A generous tablespoon of filling is enough for each slice. The original recipe called for some bread crumbs in the filling to bind it a little, I didn’t include this step and thought my filling held up nicely.
While you are cooking the eggplant there’s time to make a very basic sauce. Canned whole tomatoes, garlic, oregano, kosher salt and pepper are all you need. I always use my whole roasted tomatoes from the garden that I freeze for months without tomatoes. We had a bumper crop this year so I will be making a lot of chili, lasagna, stuffed peppers over the winter months. As for the canned varieties, in a taste test done by Cooks Illustrated, Muir Glen Organic Whole Tomatoes was the winner. Muir Glen is about a dollar more per can than the more familiar runner up, Hunts.
The involtini rolls, are added to the thickened sauce and brought to a simmer. Once the sauce is warmed, additional cheese is sprinkled on top. The rolls are browned and the cheese is melted in the broiler. Finish off with a sprinkle of basil, mini basil leaves worked well here.
Not the quickest or easiest preparation, but both the rolls and the sauce can be made in advance and assembled right before serving. An impressive dish good enough for company.
Serves 4 to 6
- 2 large eggplants, shorter wider eggplants are best (1 1/2 pounds each), if skin is thick, peel, I did not peel mine
- 6T olive oil
- Kosher salt and pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1/4t dried oregano
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 28oz canned whole peeled tomatoes drained with juice reserved, chopped coarse-I used my garden roasted tomatoes
- 1c whole-milk or part skim ricotta cheese
- 3/4c hard Italian grating cheese like Gran Padano or Pecorino Romano
- 1/4c plus 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or torn mini basil
- 1T fresh lemon juice
- Slice each eggplant lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick planks (you should have 12 planks). Trim rounded surface from each end piece so it lies flat. I found that using a vegetable peeler made this easier. Adjust 1 oven rack to lower-middle position and second rack 8 inches from broiler element. Heat oven to 375°F.
- Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and spray generously with vegetable oil spray.
- Arrange eggplant slices in single layer on prepared sheets. Lightly brush 1 side of eggplant slices with oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper. Turn slices over and repeat brushing and seasoning.
- Bake until tender and lightly browned, 30 to 35 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. This process took about 10 minutes less in my convection oven. Let cool for 5 minutes. Using thin spatula, flip each slice over. Heat broiler.
- While the eggplant is cooking, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch broiler-safe skillet, over medium-low heat until just shimmering. Add garlic, oregano, pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Stir in tomatoes and their juice. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes. Cover and set aside.
- Stir together ricotta, 1/2 cup cheese, 1/4 cup basil, lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in medium bowl.
- With widest ends of eggplant slices facing you, evenly distribute ricotta mixture on bottom third of each slice. Gently roll up each eggplant slice and place seam side down in tomato sauce.
- Bring sauce to simmer over medium heat. Simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer skillet to oven and broil until eggplant is well browned and cheese is heated through, 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Pecorino and let stand for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon basil and serve.