Sicilian Spaghetti Stuffed Eggplant Rollups {Involtini di Melanzane}


We just returned from ten fabulous days in France, spending half our stay in Provence, and the other half in the French Alps so my husband and his friends could climb mountains on their bikes. Now our trip to Sicily last month seems so far away, and I had to recently pull out my photos to bring back memories of our journey. The one aspect I think I enjoyed the most, and will never forget, was the food in Sicily. The cuisine in Sicily is still Italian but has a unique twist all of its own, making every dish we tried taste new and exciting. In Palermo, I was enthralled with the street food, and we ate as much of it as humanly possible in the two days we were there. The stands in the three main markets in Palermo offered a myriad of tasty tidbits that we thoroughly enjoyed trying. One eggplant option involved thin fried circles of eggplant stuffed with spaghetti, then topped with a spoonful of zesty tomato sauce and a sprinkling of cheese. Since eggplant is one of my favorite vegetables, and I am always looking for new ways to prepare it, I made notes on the preparation so I could duplicate it at home.

Illustration_3238When I made my version of this dish at home, I served two stuffed eggplant circles as an appetizer before our main course. These delicious stuffed eggplant morsels would also be a great option on an antipasti tray when entertaining, or would be perfect party fare. Instead of frying the slices of eggplant as they do in Sicily, I lightly brush mine with olive oil and broil them to keep the dish a little lighter. You can use your favorite tomato sauce, but I’ll include my easy quick sauce in the recipe for you to try as well. I find a lightly flavored sauce works best in this recipe.

Luckily, eggplants are never really out of season as they grow well anywhere with sufficient sunshine, so be sure only to buy them fresh. Eggplants should be firm to the touch, with tight, shiny skins. Avoid any with visible blemishes or dimples in their flesh. Using slight pressure, press your thumb into the fleshy part of the eggplant. If the pressure causes a defect, discard that eggplant. Also, choose eggplants that seem heavy for their size, as lightweight eggplants reflect pulpy choices, full of seeds. For this recipe, round or pear shaped eggplants of at least five inches in diameter are best.

Some cooks never feel it necessary to peel the skin of an eggplant before cooking, while others always do. That is only personal preference, and I sometimes do depending on the recipe, or the size of the eggplant, as generally the larger the eggplant, the tougher the skin. For this recipe, the skin helps to hold the eggplant slices together, so I recommend NOT peeling them. Salting is another matter that has cooks disagreeing, but I salt any eggplant that I have not picked fresh myself from my garden, or if I am not sure it is very fresh. Salting not only removes the bitter juices but will help prevent the eggplant from absorbing oil if frying is the preparation method of choice. To “salt” an eggplant, simply sprinkle coarse salt uniformly on slices placed in a colander. Place a weight on the slices, and let them drain in the sink for at least 30 minutes. Later, just pat dry of any excess salt and use in your recipe.

mrket1

Palermo Market Where I First Tasted This Dish

marketfood

Palermo Market Treats! I Believe The Eggplant Rollups Are In The Top Right Of This Photo.

Buon Appetito!
Deborah Mele 2016

Spaghetti Stuffed Eggplant Rollups {Involtini di Melanzane}

Ingredients:

Tomato Sauce:

  • 5 Tablespoons Olive OiL
  • 1 Small Onion, Finely Diced
  • 3 Garlic Cloves, Minced
  • 3 Cans (14 Ounces) Finely Chopped Tomatoes (I Prefer Mutti Brand)
  • 1/4 Cup Finely Chopped Fresh Basil
  • Salt & Pepper To Taste
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Red Hot Chili Flakes (Optional)

For The Rollups:

  • 4 to 5 Large Eggplants, Unpeeled, Cut Into 1/2-inch Slices
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 10 Ounces Fine Spaghetti or Capellini
  • 8 Cups Tomato Sauce (Recipe Below)
  • 3/4 Cup Ricotta Cheese
  • 3/4 Cup Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese

Directions:

  1. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat until lightly sizzling.
  2. Add the onion, and stirring often, cook until translucent, about 8 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, just another minute or two.
  4. Next, add the tomatoes, basil, salt, pepper, and chili flakes if using.
  5. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes until thickened.
  6. While the sauce is cooking, preheat the broiler to high heat.
  7. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil and brush with olive oil.
  8. Place eggplant slices side by side on the prepared sheet, then lightly brush with oil.
  9. Broil the slices until lightly browned, then turn over and brown the other side.
  10. Remove the browned slices to a plate and continue to brown the rest of the eggplant.
  11. Cook the pasta until very “al dente” in a pot of lightly salted water. (The pasta will continue to cook in the oven.)
  12. Drain the pasta, then place in a bowl along with 6 cups of the prepared tomato sauce, and half the Pecorino cheese.
  13. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  14. Line a large baking pan with about 1 cup of the sauce.
  15. On a cutting board, lay out eggplant slices.
  16. Spoon in a teaspoon or so of the ricotta cheese in the center, then place a small handful of pasta on top.
  17. Fold over the eggplant to encase the filling and place it in the prepared pan.
  18. Continue to finish all the eggplant slices in the same manner.
  19. Spoon the remaining sauce on the eggplant rollups, and then sprinkle the remaining Pecorino cheese on top.
  20. Bake until hot and bubbly, about 20 minutes, then serve and enjoy!