Serves 4 to 6
Eggplant rollatini is more of a southern-Italian dish, but although she was from the north, my mother, Grandma Erminia, loved it. Her mother, Rosa, made plenty of ricotta from the milk the family goats gave. Ricotta is so versatile in the kitchen, and I love cooking with it, from appetizers to desserts. It makes everybody happy, but at our house, especially when a bubbling pan of eggplant rollatini is delivered to the table, there are extra- big smiles. I would make these eggplant rollatini for Grandma Erminia on her birthday, and at other times, too, as she got on in age (God blessed her to live to be a hundred). They were light and soft, so easy for her to eat. She always asked if there were some left for tomorrow and I always made sure to have some extra saved for her.
- FOR THE EGGPLANT ROLLATINI
- 3 small eggplants (each about 4 inches wide, about 1 pound total weight)
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- All-purpose flour, for dredging
- Kosher salt
- 12 ounces good-quality fresh ricotta
- 6 ounces fresh mozzarella, shredded
- 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Grada Padano
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1 large egg, beaten
- FOR THE TOMATO SAUCE
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, sliced
- 2 pints ripe grape or cherry tomatoes, halved crosswise
- Kosher salt
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
For the eggplant rollatini: Trim the stems and ends from the eggplants. Remove strips of peel about 1 inch wide from the eggplants, leaving about half the peel intact. Slice the rounded sides from two opposite sides so that the eggplant sliced will lie flat. Slice the now flattened eggplant a scant 1/2 inch thick lengthwise (to get about sixteen slices). Chop the ends you cut off, and set them aside.
Heat about 1/2 inch vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat until the edge of an eggplant slice sizzles on contact. Spread some flour on a plate. Season the eggplant slices with salt, and dredge them in the flour. Fry, in batches without crowding, until they’re tender and golden, about 3 minutes per side. Drain on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet.
For the filling: In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, shredded mozzarella, 1/2 cup grated Grana Padano, the parsley, and the egg. Season with 1 teaspoon salt, and stir to combine. Lay the eggplant slices out on your work surface with the top end toward you. Divide the filling among the slices, and roll them up.
For the tomato sauce and to serve: Carefully pour the oil out of the skillet and wipe it clean. Add the olive oil, and heat it over medium heat. Add the reserved chopped eggplant, and cook until it’s lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Scatter in the garlic, and cook until it’s sizzling, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, and season with 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, tossing occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to wilt on the edges, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water, cover, and simmer until the tomatoes have broken down and the mixture is saucy, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the basil.
Nestle the rolls, seam side down, in the sauce, spooning a little of the sauce over each as you go. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup grated Grana Padano. Bake until the rollatini are browned and the sauce is bubbly, 25 to 30 minutes.