Friday, June 25, 2010

Eggplant Rollatini

My Friend Jen asked me for this one and it was destined for the blog at some point, so today is the day.

Eggplant Rollatini (somehow we always had an extra n in the word, I always pronounced it Rollantini) has been a special dish in my family as long as I can remember and both my brother and I have continued making it. One of these days I would love to try Mine, my Mom's and my Brothers side by side, it would be interesting to see how years of separation have changed the dish. I don't actually have this recipe written anyplace so the amounts of anything are going to be educated guesses, the good news is it gives you lots of opportunity to taste as you go and make a few attempts at this.

For the filling
1 large container of ricotta cheese. (30 oz I think)
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup grated Romano or Parmesan or a blend (if you are thinking about using some box of cheese here then we need to chat, seriously don't do it)
dried basil
dried oregano
garlic powder
salt and pepper
dried mint
one egg

For the eggplant
1-2 Whole Eggplants, look for the straightest eggplants you can find, free of any big bruises. I like to use two, if I am investing this much time in a dish I want to be sure there are leftovers.
3 cups or more of seasoned bread crumbs. I like to buy the unseasoned ones and add my own herbs and spices, making your own breadcrumbs is also fun
garlic powder or granulated garlic
3-4 eggs
canola oil  or some other neutral  oil for frying

To put it all together
2 cups or more of your favorite home made red sauce (if you don't make your own I will happily give lessons)
1-2 cups shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup of Parmesan/Romano

Start with the filling, you can make it well in advance, it also freezes well so if you don't need all of it freeze it. it is a great filling for several dishes, manicotti and stuffed shells come to mind.

Mix  the ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan/Romano together in a large bowl and add about a Tbsp each of  basil, oregano, and garlic maybe 1/2 Tbsp of salt and maybe a tsp of the mint, do not skip the mint. Taste for filling. You really want to be able to taste the herbs and the mint should be a light touch as an aftertaste. Set this aside in the fridge so the flavors can come together and you can do all the other work you need to do. When you are ready to use it taste for seasonings again and then mix in the egg.  I have tasted this more than one time with the raw egg in it and it hasn't killed me yet but I know people are squeamish about that.

Now make the eggplant, this is where the recipe becomes time consuming and you will see why I don't make it very often. The eggplant needs to be sliced lengthwise in slices about 1/4 inch thick, you want them to be uniform in thickness so they will cook at the same rate. If you own a deli slicer this is an easy task, cut the ends off of the eggplant and slice it up. A deli slicer may seem like an extravagant gadget but if you cook a lot I promise you will get a lot of use out of it. If you don't own a slicer (most of you I'm assuming) you can try to cut it with a knife but it is difficult to get the thickness right. Here is the trick, most supermarkets (Wegmans of course) will have people milling around in the produce area and if you ask they will slice it for you, no joke. Sometimes they will take it to the deli, sometimes they have a slicer in the produce department. If you tell them you want it 1/4 inch thick it is usually a pretty easy thing. Just ask. If you don't have any luck then you will want to buy smaller eggplants so it it easier to cut by hand.

OK now that you have your eggplant sliced you want to get some of the moisture out of it. lay the slices out on a cooling rack over some newspaper, sprinkle it with salt and let it sit for 15 minutes or so. You should see some of the moisture from the eggplant has dripped out onto the newspaper. Rinse off the salt and dry it off with paper towels.

Beat 3 eggs in a large bowl with a Tbsp of water

Mix up your breadcrumbs with salt, pepper, garlic, oregano and basil. Your best vessel for this is a 9 x 13 baking dish, the high sides are a good thing.

Heat up the biggest frying pan you own or an electric skillet, or both. The more frying area you have the fewer batches you will need to do. Add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan to a depth of about 1/8 of an inch. Medium High heat should do the trick.

Now take a slice of eggplant, and put it into your egg bowl,  let any excess drop off and then coat it with your breadcrumb mixture, shake off any excess,  you want a nice even coat. Put it into your hot oil and cook about 2-3 minutes until golden brown, then flip and cook the other side. Once each slice is done lay it on a cookie sheet covered with paper towels. You will wind up with several layers off eggplant, each layer should be separated by paper towels. Cook each slice this way, you will need to add more oil as you go, be sure to let the oil heat up fully before you add more eggplant, otherwise you will wind up with soggy greasy eggplant, doesn't that sound lovely? You may also need to add more breadcrumbs or eggs as you go.

Once all of your eggplant is fried you are ready to assemble. Preheat your oven to 375.
Put a layer of sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13 glass baking dish. Then put a heaping tablespoon of the filling on the bottom end of the eggplant and roll it up, place it seam side down on your sauce covered pan, repeat until the dish is full, then start on the next dish.  Two eggplants usually nets me two full 9 x 13 pans and one smaller pan. I told you I like leftovers.

When you are done add a layer of sauce to the top of each pan and sprinkle it liberally with mozzarella and Parmesan/Romano. If you are going to freeze a pan of this then do it now, put a layer of plastic wrap right down onto the cheese and then cover with foil and stick it in the freezer. Do yourself a favor and use a sharpie to write on the foil  REMOVE PLASTIC BEFORE BAKING. To heat it from frozen just put it in a 350 degree oven until it is bubbling then turn the heat up to 400 for a few minutes to brown the cheese.

Bake it in the oven until the filling and sauce are bubbling and the mozzarella has started to brown a bit. 15 minutes? maybe? I have no clue. By this time I have been frying eggplant for a while and time has lost all meaning. I'm usually well into a few glasses of wine by now as well.

Ideally you will want to let this sit for 15-20 minutes before serving so the cheese filling has some time to set but I rarely make it that long. Serve with some extra sauce on the side if you like, I tend to like it just as it is, too much sauce overwhelms the subtle flavors of the eggplant and the filling.  This is my eggplant dish for people who say they hate eggplant. The eggplant is completely transformed in this recipe and while it still retains its flavor it loses all of the bitter mushiness that turns off many people to eggplant.

Serve with fresh bread or garlic bread and a nice green salad and some good red wine. Chianti or montepulciano would be a nice match.

Since the filling is the same I have been known to do half and half pans of eggplant rollatini and manicotti, this pleases everyone, including me. I did this for the first time as a meal for some friends who had just had a baby, I knew for sure one of them would not touch the eggplant so this was a nice compromise. Fresh manicotti shells are so simple it's a crime but that is another blog post.

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