I don’t think there’s a person on earth who doesn’t like pasta wrapped around cheese. Especially when you put some savory and delicious homemade red sauce on top. This recipe substitutes eggplant for the pasta but works just as well and is a great use for a vegetable that sometimes gets overlooked in modern kitchens. Trust me, you don’t lose anything by using eggplant (besides carbos) – in fact I think the texture is actually a value add here.
Though the process of making this dish may sound complicated, it’s actually very simple as the eggplant doesn’t require breading and just a little frying before the involtini can be wrapped and placed in the oven. You can also use pasta as a substitute for the eggplant, pounded chicken or veal would work too. I sat and ate Involtini in Rome years ago, before I was ever interested in the culinary arts and really opened my eyes.
The basic idea for this dish is an old Italian country style classic, though it was brought to my eyes via Mario Batali (surprise, surprise). This dish filled the house with some really awesome aromas that had Tanner the dog sitting at the kitchen door begging for a handout. Make extra, the leftovers are delicious too!
I recently have been in the practice of incorporating my red sauce with lots of hearty red wine – using Bordeaux varietals or Syrah, not Pinot. The wine really stands up the the tomatoes and the two compliment each other beautifully. The involtini really has two main steps that get combined just before baking in the oven – making the red sauce and preparing the eggplant. Here’s what I did:
Over medium heat, cook the onion, celery and carrot (season with salt here) in the olive oil until slightly browned but not burned – about 7 minutes. A little color on the onion is ok here, but you don’t want any on the other vegetables. Add in the garlic, bay leaf, basil, red pepper, thyme stalks and a bit more salt and pepper and toss together for another few minutes. Raise the heat and add in the wine. Let the wine cook off until the aroma of the sauce doesn’t have any alchoholic bite to it and most of the liquid is gone – around 5-7 minutes depending on your pan. Add in the tomato paste and incorporate it into the sauce.
Take the tomatoes and crush them in your hand over the pan and add them to the mixture. The tomato pieces should be fairly small and their juice should thin the sauce a bit. Add more of the juice as neccessary. Lower the heat to low and cook until the sauce thicken a little bit. Adjust the seasonings to taste. Leave this over very low heat while you prepare the eggplant.
Preparing the Eggplant
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Combine the ricotta, scallion, egg, red pepper flakes, sage and nutmeg in a mixing bowl and set aside.
In a heavy pan, heat the olive oil over medium/high heat (to a temp. around 350-375 or until a small square of bread browns in a couple minutes). Add in the eggplant slices a few at a time (don’t overlap in the pan) and cook for about a minute or two on each side. The eggplant should get pretty soft but not brown too much. Drain the cooked eggplant on paper towels and continue until all of the eggplant is cooked like this.
Take a slice of eggplant and put a heaping tablespoon of the ricotta mixture at the base of the slice and roll it up to form a small round. Place the roll-ups in an oven-safe baking pan or dish in rows (will make it easier to serve later). Continue until all of the eggplant has been used or all of the ricotta is gone (I usually run out of eggplant first).
Once all of your eggplant is wrapped and in the oven-safe dish, take your red sauce and distribute it around the eggplant. Add a little bit of fresh Mozzarella to each eggplant roll and optionaly some salt, red and black pepper. Place in your preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese inside the eggplant is oozing and the Mozarella is a little browned but not burned. Pull from the oven, top with some diced parsley and serve.
Serves around 6 people. Enjoy!
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