Eggplants are prepared in a variety of ways in southern Italy, especially in Sicily, where they turn up in pasta sauces, layered with tomatoes and cheese, and in this simple antipasto of involtini (stuffed rolls), which can also be served as a meatless main course in larger portions. Cooks salt eggplant for two reasons: it contains a lot of moisture and it can have bitter juices, and salt draws out both of them.
- 1 large eggplant, about 1 1/2 lb.
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
- 1/4 lb. fresh mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 4 Tbs. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- Olive oil for brushing
- 2 1/2 cups tomato sauce, purchased or homemade
Trim the eggplant, then cut crosswise on the diagonal (so the slices are as wide as possible) 1/4 inch thick. Layer the slices in a colander set over a plate, sprinkling each layer with salt, and let stand for 30 minutes to drain.
Meanwhile, in a bowl, stir together the ricotta, mozzarella, 2 Tbs. of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, the parsley and pepper.
Preheat an oven to 450°F.
Rinse the eggplant slices quickly under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Brush the slices on both sides with olive oil, then arrange them in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet.
Bake the slices until lightly browned on the bottom, about 10 minutes. Turn the slices over and continue to bake until browned on the second side and tender, 5 to 10 minutes more. Remove the eggplant from the oven. Reduce the temperature to 350°F.
Spoon a thin layer of the tomato sauce into a 9-inch square baking dish. To make each eggplant roll, place a spoonful of the cheese mixture near one end of a slice and roll up the slice. As each roll is formed, place it seam side down in the dish. Spoon the remaining sauce over the rolls, then sprinkle evenly with the remaining 2 Tbs. Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Bake the rolls until the sauce is bubbling hot and the rolls are heated through, about 25 minutes. Divide the rolls among individual plates and serve immediately. Serves 4.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Italian by Michele Scicolone (Oxmoor House, 2007).