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I love experimenting with different rolls. By that, I mean thin vessels that are layered with a savory filling and rolled up, both raw and cooked. I am a pretty healthy eater, so my go-to rolls in warm weather are rice paper wrapped around crunchy vegetables and avocado or nori sushi rolls with brown rice, julienned vegetables, and cooked shrimp. In cooler months, I gravitate toward thinly pounded chicken, slices of zucchini or eggplant, or blanched or fermented cruciferous greens rolled around cheese, herbs, grains, or cured meats and baked in a tomato-based gravy. Oh, and of course, dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) are high on my list.
It is getting really cold where I live and I am craving involtini di melanzane. My farmer’s market still has eggplant and farm-fresh cheese. Involtini is basically “roll” in Italian and melanzane is “eggplant”. In late fall, the eggplants start to get a little bitter but are still delicious. The best way to use the late-season fruit is to slice it thinly, char a little, and roll around a robust filling of different cheeses and herbs. The involtini is baked in a light tomato sauce. It is filling yet not the kind of dish that leaves you wanting to take a nap. It is vegetarian after all.
This involtini di melanzane recipe is straightforward and easy to follow step-by-step. The ingredients are not complicated and definitely budget-friendly. This is a good dish that will entice your kids to eat vegetables without piling on the pasta. It is basically eggplant, cheese, and tomato sauce. Once assembled, just bake in the oven while you make a fresh salad or a creamy chickpea pasta dish to go with the main event.
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves peeled and minced
- 2 15 ounce cans crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano leaves
- 1 Tbsp sliced fresh basil leaves
- 2 medium eggplant
- 2 tsp sea salt divided
- 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 cups whole milk ricotta cheese
- 2 whole eggs
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese divided
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 2/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- All ingredients ready? Let's begin!
- In a saucepot over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, oregano, and basil. Reduce the heat and allow the sauce to simmer while you make the involtini.
- Add salt and pepper to taste to the warm sauce before assembling the involtini.
- Preheat your oven to 375°F.
- Peel the eggplant and slice them lengthwise into ¼ inch thin planks. Brush both sides with a little olive oil and lightly season with salt.
- On a grill pan or heavy skillet over medium-high heat, grill the eggplant until just soft enough to roll. Remove to a platter or cutting board.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, half of the grated parmesan cheese, parsley, remaining salt, and pepper.
- Ladle a little of the tomato sauce into a large baking dish.
- Spread each eggplant slice with a healthy spoonful of the cheese mixture.
- Roll the eggplant around the cheese and place the rolls, seam side down, in the sauce in the dish. You can secure the rolls with toothpicks if needed.
- Cover the involtini with the rest of the tomato sauce.
- Top with the rest of the grated cheese and the mozzarella.
- Place the baking dish in the hot oven and cook for 20 minutes or until bubbling and tender.
- Serve while warm as an appetizer or an entrée with pasta and salad.
Notes & Tips
- It is better to work with medium eggplant rather than very large for this dish. There are two reasons for this. The larger fruits can become bitter the longer they are allowed to grow. Also, you want evenly sized slices for rolling around the cheese so that all the involtini are cooked through.
- Don’t skip the step of slightly pre-cooking the eggplant. This helps them to become a little bit soft or pliable so that they roll easily around the cheese filling.
Substitutions & Shortcuts
Some people just don’t like eggplant. If that is the case, you can make this dish with green zucchini or yellow summer squash. When using either of these squashes, don’t bother peeling them and pre-cook for a little less time than you would the eggplant.
Other options that you can use in place of eggplant are veal scaloppini pounded thinly or green leafy vegetables, such as kale, escarole, or Swiss chard. You will want to quickly blanch the greens before filling them so they will roll easily.
I will sometimes add a very thin slice of prosciutto to the eggplant before filling and rolling the involtini for another dimension of flavor. If you add prosciutto, be mindful of the salt and use a little less in the cheese mixture.
I think making tomato sauce is easy with good canned tomatoes. If you have a favorite jarred marinara sauce, by all means, use that as a shortcut. Another shortcut is to purchase cheese that is already grated and shredded. It isn’t as good as preparing your own, but it is fine in a pinch.