I don’t know about you, but I’ve always struggled with finding eggplant recipes that I like. The eggplant is either spongy, tough, and bitter, or it’s mushy and brown. Or worst of all, it’s a disgusting sponge of grease. Because of my eggplant struggles, I’m always hesitant to cook it unless I find a truly reputable source that will make my time, and the ingredients, worth it. Today, Cook’s Illustrated is that source! I found this recipe for eggplant involtini while digging through their archives, and it addresses all of the issues I have with eggplant. They skipped the typical hour of salting and dabbing with paper towels to remove excess water. They swapped the usual process of frying with cleaner and easier oven baking. And finally, they lightened the filling and simplified the sauce for an eggplant dish that is fresh and summery rather than heavy, greasy and rich. I love a good eggplant parmesan, but when summer cooking rolls around I’ll take this simple, lightened eggplant involtini any day!
serves 4- 6 | recipe slightly adapted from Cooks Illustrated, July & August 2014
2 large eggplants (1 1/2 lbs each), peeled
6 tbsp vegetable oil
kosher salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp dried oregano
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained with juice reserved, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
8 oz (1 cup) whole milk ricotta cheese
1 1/2 oz (3/4 cup) Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 tbsp lemon juice
Remove ends from each eggplant then slice lengthwise into 1/2” thick pieces. Slice the rounded skin off of each edge piece to ensure it lies flat and the flesh is exposed on both sides.
Arrange the oven racks so that one is about 8” below the broiler and the second is in a lower-middle position. Spray two parchment paper lined baking sheets with olive oil (be generous here), then evenly space the eggplant slices on them. Brush each slice with 2 1/2 tbsp olive oil, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, then flip the slices to repeat brushing and seasoning the other side.
Bake the eggplant for 30 to 35 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through, until lightly browned and tender. Let cool for 5 minutes (this helps firm up the slices so they don’t tear), then carefully flip them over to allow steam to escape. Preheat the broiler.
When the eggplant roasts, place a large, oven safe skillet over medium low heat. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil then add garlic, oregano, pepper flakes, salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook about 30 seconds, stirring occasionally, then add chopped tomatoes and their juice. Raise heat to high to bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer gently until sauce is reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, bread crumbs, 1/2 cup Pecorino, 1/2 cup basil, lemon juice and 1/2 tsp salt.
Place a slice of eggplant with the widest end closest to you and spoon the ricotta mixture on the bottom third of each slice. Roll the eggplant slice tightly but gently, and place it seam side down in the tomato sauce. Repeat with remaining eggplant slices, arranging them in a concentric circle around the pan.
Return the sauce to a simmer, and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Place pan in oven, on top rack, and broil until eggplant rolls are browned and heated through, 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle eggplant with remaining pecorino and basil and serve.