I love eggplant. I recently found out that it's related to potatoes. No wonder I love it so! I've never met a potato I didn't like...
But the weird thing is that eggplant is one of those veggies I rarely think to make.
Why is that?
Eggplant is at every market I frequent and inevitably my hand passes right over them for asparagus or zucchini.
I blame food ruts.
When I get busy, cooking becomes less therapeutic and creative. Instead, it's a means to an end: it's simply easier to throw something on that you don't have to think about or fuss over because you've done it a hundred times before.
But this weekend, I was in an aubergine mood. I was cooking for a friend Saturday night and I wanted to make something that would be light, would look gorgeous plated and of course, taste yummy. Holding the big beautiful eggplant in my hand in the middle of the aisle at the market, I knew immediately what it was going to be.
A few years ago, I dined at Trattoria Fantastica in the heart of Little Italy just north of Downtown San Diego. I discovered an eggplant dish there that just about made me swoon! It's called Imbottiti: thin slices of eggplant rolled with pasta and cheese and topped with tomatoes.
I have since spent some time trying to recreate the recipe from memory and although my version doesn't taste exactly like theirs (I don't use the mozzarella), I do like what I've come up with. It's a great alternative to the heavier eggplant parmigiana found on most Italian restaurant menus.
It was a hit this weekend. I hope it is in your home too! Oh, and of course, it's one of my favorite ways to use the pesto I posted about last month.
2 large firm eggplants
4 oz. angel hair pasta
1/2 cp prepared pesto
1/2 cp ricotta
1 egg, slightly beaten
4 large tomatoes, chopped
1 cp of your favorite pasta sauce (I LOVE the sauces from Coppola Vineyards called Mammarella Sauce and for this dish used the Puttanesca Sauce)
fresh basil leaves
1 tbs capers
2 large garlic cloves, minced
freshly ground pepper
1. Cut the tops off the eggplants. In order to keep the eggplant stable when slicing, cut the bottoms off as well. Stand the eggplants bottoms down and carefully slice as evenly as possible from top to bottom. From a large eggplant, you should be able to get eight slices not counting the first and last thin slices that are pretty much all skin. (I find mandolins cut the eggplant too thin so they burn during the roasting stage. I like the control of using a good sharp 8" chef knife.) Sometimes, eggplant can be a bit bitter. I salt mine to draw some of that bitterness out. In a colander, put a single layer of eggplant down and generously salt. Continue layering and salting until all of the eggplant is in the colander. Place a paper towel on top and cover with a bowl or plate with a little weight. Leave the colander in the sink or in a shallow bowl for 20 minutes or so. In the meantime, preheat oven to 425º.
2. While waiting for the eggplant, boil and cook the pasta to al dente. When ready, immediately rinse with cold water to stop cooking. Transfer to a bowl. Add the pesto (minus 2 tbs) and toss to coat well. Set aside.
3. Place the tomatoes, capers, garlic and basil in a bowl. Toss with a 2 count pour of olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add about 1/2 cp of pasta sauce. This will be to top the rolled eggplants. Set aside
4. Rinse the eggplant throughly. Pat dry. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the eggplant in single layer on the baking sheets. Drizzle olive oil over the slices. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Flip the eggplant slices and repeat. Roast for 10 minutes. Remove the sheets from the oven and carefully so as to not tear the slices, flip the eggplant. (Any slices that are starting to brown and are tender, remove from the sheets and set aside so they don't burn.) Place the baking sheets back in to the oven for another 5 - 8 minutes until tender. Remove when ready and set aside. Lower oven temperature to 350º.
5. While the eggplant is roasting, place the ricotta in a small bowl and whisk in the egg and the reserved 2 tbs of pesto. Season with a little salt and pepper. Set aside.
6. Spread some pasta sauce (not the one with the fresh tomatoes) on the bottom of a lasagna pan. On a plate, take a slice of eggplant and starting on the big end, spread a tablespoon of the ricotta mixture stopping about a 1/3 of the way to the small end. Fingers work best so use your hands to get about a tablespoon or so of the pasta, bunch it up and place at the large end of the slice. Carefully roll the eggplant, catching whatever pasta spills out and push it back into the roll. Place end down in the prepared lasagna pan to help keep te roll from unrolling. Repeat with all the slices. Put a tbs of the fresh tomato mixture atop each roll. Bake for 15 minutes. Let stand for five minutes before serving.
Serves 4 as an entré or 8 as a side dish.