You can use a good quality prepared tomato sauce here, or whip up a batch of Quick Garlic-Tomato Sauce, reducing the garlic a bit. If your prepared sauce is quite thick, warm it with a half cup of water or so first to loosen it. I prefer fresh ricotta from an Italian grocery store or market with a good cheese selection. If you’re using grocery store ricotta, start with about 2 ¼ cups and drain overnight in a cheesecloth-lined strainer in the fridge to remove the excess liquid.
- 2 medium eggplants (about 2 pounds total)
- Kosher salt
- ½ of a (10-ounce) box frozen chopped spinach, thawed
- 1 ½ cups fresh ricotta
- ¾ cup freshly grated Grana Padano
- 1 ½ cups low-moisture mozzarella, grated
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 3 large eggs
- 3 cups prepared tomato sauce
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- All-purpose flour
- Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Trim the stems and ends from the eggplants. Remove strips of peel with a vegetable peeler about 1-inch wide from the eggplants, leaving about half the peel intact. Cut the eggplant lengthwise into ¼-inch thick slices and place them in a colander.
Sprinkle generously with the coarse salt, tossing to expose all slices, and let drain for 1 hour. Rinse the eggplant under cool running water, drain thoroughly and pat dry.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Put the chopped spinach in a kitchen towel (or squeeze in a potato ricer) and wring out as much liquid as possible. Break the clumps apart and put in a large bowl. Add the ricotta, ¼ cup of the grated Grana Padano, the grated mozzarella and parsley and stir to combine. Beat 1 of the eggs in a small bowl and stir into the filling to combine. Season with salt.
Put the tomato sauce in a small saucepan and warm over low heat.
Whisk the remaining 2 eggs and 1 teaspoon salt together in a wide, shallow bowl. Spread the flour in an even layer in a separate wide, shallow bowl. Heat about ½ inch vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Dredge the eggplant slices in flour, shaking the excess off. Dip the floured eggplant into the egg mixture, turning well to coat both sides evenly. Let excess egg drip back into the pan.
When a corner of a coated eggplant slice gives off a lively sizzle when dipped into the oil, it is ready for frying. Add as many of the coated eggplant slices as will fit touching and cook, turning once, until golden on both sides, about 4 minutes. Remove the eggplant to a sheet pan with paper towel and repeat with the remaining eggplant slices. Adjust the heat as the eggplant cooks to prevent the egg coating from cooking too fast or overbrowning. Add oil to the pan as necessary during cooking to keep the level more or less the same. Allow the oil to heat before adding more eggplant slices.
Pour 1 cup of the tomato sauce over the bottom of a 19-by-13-inch baking dish.
Lay one of the fried eggplant slices in front of you with the short ends towards you. Spoon on about 3 tablespoons of the ricotta filing. Roll into a compact roll and place, seam side down, in the prepared baking dish. Repeat with the remaining eggplant slices and filling, placing the rolls side by side.
Ladle the remaining 2 cups of tomato sauce over the eggplant rolls to coat them evenly. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup grated Grana Padano. Cover the dish with foil, tenting it so it doesn’t touch the tops of the rolls, and bake until the edges of the casserole are bubbling and the filling is heated through, about 25 minutes. Uncover and bake until the cheese is browned and crusty, 20 to 25 minutes more. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.