I"m going to admit something that I don't often own up to and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it doesn't lead all of your fingers to click on that unsubscribe button, please guys, be gentle. Ok, here goes: I don't really like eggplant. WHAT?!!! Is the woman mad? How can she write a food blog and not like one of the most popular and versatile foods around?!! I know, I know. I can't explain it--it's not a hatred or anything but if given the choice between eggplant and say, spinach, I'm a Popeye kind of a girl, through and through. And the irony is that I live with several eggplant lovers, so for them and all of you loyal subscribers out there (hint, hint) I present these exceptionally good (so I'm told) cheesy-filled eggplant rolls.
It kinda makes me sad that I don't enjoy eggplant--it's the same way I feel about lobster. When I was a kid my parents would have a big lobster dinner every summer and my sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles would all ooh and aah and be dipping everything into melted butter, while I munched on fried chicken. I tried to like it, but...nope. And I'm still kind of a picky eater today, which segues us nicely back to this eggplant dish. I know that if I did like eggplant I would LOVE this dish because the eggplant is first grilled here, so it's got that nice smoky flavor and then it's wrapped around a luscious ricotta, parmesan and basil creamy filling.
To add to that it's topped with tomato sauce and even more fresh basil and then baked up so that the filling gets all gooey and bubbly--sort of like eggplant pizza without the crust.
Which means that it's a carb-free dish as well--great if you're trying to limit your carbs! And because there's no breading to weigh down the thin slices of grilled eggplant, the true flavor of the fruit (yup, that's right, it's actually a fruit, not a veggie) comes shining through, something that must send all you aubergine admirers out there into ecstasy!!
So if eggplant's the apple (well, it is a fruit) of your eye, make this tonight! It's definitely doable on a weeknight and great if you do Meatless Mondays. Me, I'll most likely just be having a salad!
Cheesy-Filled Eggplant Rolls
Makes 4-6 servings--you can easily double this if making for a crowd
Prep Time: 25 minutes; Bake Time: 15-20 minutes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 large eggplant, cut the long way into 1/4 inch thick slices
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
12 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for sprinkling on top of the casserole at the end
8 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
I jar of your favorite tomato sauce or this homemade version
1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. You can grill the eggplant over a charcoal grill, gas grill or on the top of the stove in a grill pan or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. If using an outdoor grill, you want a very hot fire.
2. In a small bowl, whisk the oil and vinegar together and brush on both sides of the eggplant. Season with salt and pepper and grill for 3-4 minutes per side, until softened and golden with grill marks visible. Place the cooked eggplant on a large rimmed baking sheet or casserole dish.
3. In a medium bowl, stir together the ricotta, parmesan and half of the basil. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and stir well. Place 2-3 tablespoons of the mixture about 1 inch away from the edge on the eggplant slice and roll the slice up. Repeat with the rest of the eggplant and cheese mixture and place the rolls, seam side down in the pan. Spoon tomato sauce over the tops of the rolls and a sprinkle a little bit more Parmesan cheese over the rolls if you like. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the rolls are hot and the cheese is bubbly. Sprinkle the tops with the remaining basil and serve immediately.
4. You can make this dish at least 1 day ahead but don't bake it. Instead, cover it tightly with aluminum foil and refrigerate it. Take it out about 30 minutes before you're ready to bake it to bring it to room temperature and then proceed with Step 4.
Note: Recipe adapted from Sara Foster's Casual Cooking. I used my own tomato sauce and subbed in part-skim ricotta cheese.