Eggplant Rollups {Involtini di Melanzane}

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Eggplant seems to be one of those vegetables that folks either like or dislike. I have friends and family members who tell me that they find the texture of eggplant very unpleasant, but it is a vegetable I have always enjoyed using in my kitchen. The simple eggplant is an extremely versatile vegetable, and because its flavor is subtle, it can be used in many preparations and combined with many other ingredients. One of my favorite Italian dishes has been Eggplant Parmesan since I enjoyed my very first bite, probably over 40 years ago. This dish when well made can be extraordinary, although there are many heavy, greasy fried versions that simply miss the mark. I recently tried a variation of Eggplant Parmesan, by rolling my eggplant slices after lightly frying them, around a mixture of ricotta, mozzarella, and Pecorino Romano cheese.  It turned out to be an extremely satisfying and delicious meatless entree. In fact, I can’t wait to make this dish for my eggplant hating family members because I am sure that this dish will change their minds.

Although I usually prefer grilling my eggplant slices to frying them, I did dredge the slices in flour and then in a beaten egg mixture before lightly frying them. I had tried making eggplant rollups in the past by simply grilling the eggplant slices and found that they didn’t hold together well and that the filling oozed out during baking. I found that by coating the slices in the egg mixture before frying them, that it helped to firm up the eggplant and give the slices more substance to wrap around and enclose the filling.

The best eggplants to choose for this dish are firm, and no wider than 5 inches across. Choose eggplants without blemishes or bruising. I did salt my eggplant for 30 minutes before I fried them to remove any bitter juices, but that extra step is optional. The tomato sauce I used for this dish was a simple one made with finely chopped onion, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and basil. I barely cooked the sauce, so it retained its fresh flavor, and the onion added just a little subtle sweetness. After my involtini had baked for about 30 minutes and were hot and bubbly, I topped them with a mixture of pine nuts, parsley, breadcrumbs and anchovy for added texture, color, and flavor. This is a dish that can be assembled ahead of time and baked just before serving, making it a great option for entertaining. Although you could serve one involtini as a side dish for grilled or roasted meat, I prefer to serve two as a meatless main course along with a mixed green salad and crusty Italian bread.

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Buon Appetito!
Deborah Mele 2015

Eggplant Rollups {Involtini di Melanzane}

Ingredients:

  • 2 Large Eggplants (See Notes Above)
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1/2 Cup Lightly Seasoned All-purpose Flour
  • 1/2 Cup Olive Oil For Frying

Filling:

  • 1 Cup Ricotta Cheese
  • 3/4 Cup Shredded Mozzarella
  • 1/3 Cup Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1 Egg

Sauce:

  • 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Cup Finely Chopped Sweet Onion
  • 2 Garlic Cloves, Minced
  • 2 Cups Chopped San Marzano Tomatoes
  • Salt & Pepper To Taste
  • 3 Tablespoons Finely Chopped Fresh Basil

Topping:

  • 1/4 Cup Fresh Parsley Leaves, Chopped
  • 1/3 Cup Pine Nuts
  • 1/4 Cup Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese
  • 1/4 Cup Coarse Breadcrumbs
  • 1 Canned Anchovy (Or 1 Teaspoon Anchovy Paste)

Directions:

  1. Cut the eggplants lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices.
  2. Place the slices in a colander in the sink, sprinkling sea salt between layers.
  3. Weight the eggplant slices down with a heavy plate and let rest 30 minutes.
  4. Pat the eggplant slices dry.
  5. Place the flour in a plastic bag.
  6. Beat the eggs in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of water.
  7. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a heavy frying pan over medium heat.
  8. First dredge the eggplant slices in the flour, then the egg, and fry in batches until golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes per side.
  9. Adding more oil as needed, continue to cook all of the slices, draining them on paper towels after they have been cooked.
  10. To prepare the sauce, in a saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until lightly smoking.
  11. Add the onions, and cook until translucent and soft, about 5 minutes.
  12. Add the minced garlic, and continue to cook until fragrant, another minute or two.
  13. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, and basil, and cook over medium heat for 7 to 8 minutes or just until the sauce begins to thicken.
  14. Spoon a cup of the sauce over the bottom of a large ovenproof casserole dish.
  15. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  16. In a bowl, mix together the filling ingredients.
  17. Take a slice of eggplant, and spoon a heaping tablespoon of filling onto the thicker end of the eggplant slice and roll, encasing the filling.
  18. Place the eggplant slices seam side down side by side as shown in the photos.
  19. Continue to use up all of the filling and eggplant slices in the same fashion.
  20. Spoon the rest of the sauce over the involtini, cover the casserole dish with foil, and bake for 30 minutes.
  21. On a cutting board, coarsely chop together the topping ingredients, rubbing the anchovy into the mixture to break it up.
  22. Uncover the casserole dish, then sprinkle the topping mixture over the eggplant slices.
  23. Bake for another 15 minutes uncovered until the topping mixture has lightly browned.