I think I can best describe eggplant involtini as a blend between eggplant parmesan and baked manicotti. In the most basic sense, eggplant is used as a device that holds in a filling. I’d say it looks more like manicotti than parm, but that’s just me.
I’ve never tasted this recipe before. Throughout my life, I’ve favored eggplant parmesan and have eaten that on countless occasions. As far as baked manicotti goes, not so much. When it comes to the involtini, never. I’m not sure why that is when these recipes are so similar. And as a matter of fact, preparing this dish may be the most simple of all of these. It’s just as tasty and just as filling. The only thing it’s not is more popular.
I found this recipe on Cook’s Illustrated. It’s also listed on America’s Test Kitchen, if you were interested. It’s described as a simpler way of preparing a dish that has traditionally been dosed with salt, a milky filling, sauce and too much cheese. The goal with this updated recipe was to lighten things up a bit. Instead of mozzarella, Parmesan is used. Instead of a heavy, dense filling, a more robust, airy one is used. As far as I can tell, with my limited experience, this recipe is successful. I wish I had tried the original version, so I could offer more commentary, but I haven’t, so I can’t. What I can tell you is that the recipe below was fun to put together, I was able to use my cast iron again and I had some really good food that lasted two days. I’d say that’s a good deal.
2 Large Eggplants
Regular Olive Oil
Kosheror Sea Salt
Regular Table Salt
Ground Black Pepper
2 Garlic Cloves
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/4 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
1 Can (28 Ounce) Diced Tomatoes
2 Slices Sandwich Bread
1 Cup Whole-Milk Ricotta Cheese
3/4 Cup Parmesan Cheese, Grated
1/4 Cup Plus 1 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley, Chopped
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
It’s recommended that you purchase shorter, fatter eggplant as opposed to longer, thinner ones. You’re going to need to slice 6 pieces that are about 1/2 thick from each eggplant, so you need to be sure there’s enough material from each.
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
Oil Trays & Slice Eggplant
You’ll likely need two baking sheets for this part of the recipe. Go ahead and add about one tablespoon of regular olive oil to each tray and brush it until it covers the entire bottom. If you need more than that, add it. Once that’s finished, you can trim and (optionally) peel the eggplant and then slice it lengthwise into 6 pieces per vegetable. Each slice should be approximately 1/2 inch thick, meaning, they should have some meat to them. Then, arrange the pieces on the baking sheets.
Next, add some olive oil to a small bowl and brush it onto each side of each of the pieces of eggplant. Don’t add too much – just enough to coat them. Then, lightly sprinkle some kosher or sea salt and some ground black pepper on each side of the eggplant.
Add to Oven
Once the oiling and seasoning of the eggplant is finished, you can arrange the oven racks so the bottom one is in the lower center position and the top one is about 8 inches from the top. Then, put the baking sheets into the warm oven and let cook for about 30 minutes, or until the eggplant starts to turn golden brown. You should also rotate and switch the baking sheets about half way through. When the eggplant is finished, it should look something like the photo below.
Once you take a trays from the oven, be sure to turn off the heat and turn on the broiler to low.
While the eggplant is baking in the oven, you can prepare the tomato sauce. This is a more basic version of the homemade tomato sauce recipe I previously shared on this site. It’s much faster and easier, but it really has some good punch to it.
For this part, I used my 12 inch cast iron skillet. You can use any skillet you’d like, as long as it’s a comparable size and oven safe. In the skillet of your choosing, add 1 tablespoon of regular olive oil and heat over medium-low until the oil begins to shimmer. Then, crush the 2 cloves of garlic and add them to the pan. Also add 1/2 teaspoon of regular table salt, the 1/4 teaspoon of dried oregano and the 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Stir and cook these ingredients for about a minute and a half.
Next, add the 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes to the skillet, raise the heat to high until the sauce begins to boil and then lower the heat back down to medium-low and simmer for about 15 minutes. Now, there’s a trick to this part that helps avoid all the possible splattering of tomato sauce. During the changes in temperature, it’s important to stir like a crazy person. While the sauce is getting hotter, it’s going to want to bubble and splatter. You can’t let that happen. If you stir, it won’t. When you think the temperature has risen enough to maintain a simmer, keep stirring and then lower the temperature. Continue to stir and eventually the sauce will liquify enough that the bubbles become much smaller and won’t splatter.
After 15 minutes of simmering, you can remove the sauce from the heat.
Tear the 2 pieces of sandwich bread into smaller pieces and add to a food processor. Pulse a few times until the bread is broken down into course crumbs.
Once the crumbs are finished, add them to a large bowl and then add the 1 cup of whole-milk ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup of the grated Parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup of the chopped fresh parsley, the 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon of regular table salt as well.
Then, mix all the ingredients until they are combined well.
Fill & Roll Filling into Eggplant
The easiest method to use for this section is to divide the filling by 12. Since the filling is fairly stiff, this isn’t too difficult. Basically, the goal is to not run out of or have extra filling when you reach your twelfth piece of eggplant. You want the same amount of filling in each one.
Place each division of filling onto the wider part of each piece of eggplant. Then, roll the eggplant up like a piece of manicotti. After that, add each piece evenly, seam side down, to the skillet that has the sauce in it.
Here’s a closer photo.
To cook the eggplant, you’ll need to warm it on the stove top over medium heat for about 5 minutes. I did this just until the sauce began simmering. Then, I placed the skillet inside the oven, on the top rack for about 10 minutes. Remember, the broiler should be on low at this point. When the tops of the eggplant rolls begin to brown, you can remove the skillet from the oven.
When you remove the skillet, place it on the stove top. You can add the remaining 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese to the top of each piece of eggplant and also sprinkle the left over 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley.
Finally, you can plate and serve.
The Final Dish
I had difficulty taking photos of this dish because I wanted to taste it so badly. I did manage to snap some good shots before I dug in though. The noticeable aspect of this dish is the garlic, followed closely by the nicely textured filling. The eggplant almost reminds me of sauteed mushroom for some reason. Any way you look at it, your kitchen will smell like Italy and your belly will be full.
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