A few years ago we had our first helping of Eggplant Involtini at a restaurant in Chicago. The meal overall was pretty good, but we were really excited about the eggplant appetizer. It combined three of our favorite things - eggplant, ricotta, and tomato sauce - into one dish.
|That sounds too good to be true! I will pounce on it!|
Making the Dish
What You'll Need
Olive oil, for frying the eggplant
2 Italian eggplants
2 cups basic tomato sauce
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley
1 tablespoon thinly sliced scallions
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
This is a dish made of three parts - the eggplant, the cheese filling, and the sauce. We won't go into the sauce in this blog post - just make a simple tomato sauce ahead of time or use a marinara sauce in a jar. For ours, we made a vibrant, chunky tomato sauce with hint of basil and red wine.
|Sliced eggplant with fresh chopped parsley.|
Start off by preparing the eggplant. Slice off the ends of the eggplant, and then slice down the eggplant vertically to create 1/4 - 1/2 in strips. Soak the strips in salt water for about 20 - 30 minutes. This removes some of the bitter liquid from the eggplant. Then remove and pat dry.
|Frying the eggplant in hot olive oil.|
When you have your strips ready, pour some olive oil into a non-stick pan and turn to medium-high heat. Gently slip the eggplant slices into the oil once it starts to smoke, and cook for about 45 seconds to 1 minute on a side until the side is browned. Then turn over and flip again. You don't want to burn it, but you do want to caramelize it. Remove the eggplant from the oil and let drain on a paper towel.
|Draining the fried eggplant on a paper towel.|
Do this in batches until all your strips are done.
|All the ingredients for the filling combined together.|
While the eggplant is resting, prepare your mixture. In a mixing bowl, combine 1 cup of fresh ricotta cheese with one beaten egg, a tablespoon of fresh chopped parsley, a tablespoon of fresh thinly sliced scallions, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Mix it all together until everything is thoroughly combined.
|Creamy ricotta cheese mixture.|
Next comes the fun part. Spread your sauce around on a baking dish to coat the bottom. Then, take about one to two tablespoons of the filling and place it on the end of the eggplant strip. Roll the eggplant around it until you've created a tube, and place the tube seam side down on the baking dish.
|A dollop of ricotta filling onto the eggplant.|
Do this until all of your eggplant are filled and the cheese filling is depleted. Then, cover the involtini with the remaining tomato sauce. If you want, you can top it with mozzarella cheese, but we've found that it ends up being quite a bit lighter without.
|Rolling the eggplant around the filling.|
Place the baking dish into the oven, preheated to 375 degrees, and let bake for about 15 - 20 minutes, until you can see the cheese mixture bubbling and mixing with the sauce.
|Eggplant involtini on a bed of sauce.|
|Our eggplant involtini gets ready to go into the oven.|
Garnished with fresh parsley and a sprinkling of grated cheese, you have yourself one tremendous appetizer that will satisfy your stomach and your spirit. This is really one of our favorite things to make, and is a great way to start a meal of pasta, meat, or really anything. If you make a big batch of sauce, you can use the rest for a pasta dish or to braise a nice piece of meat.
What's your favorite appetizer? Let us know in the comments below!