The first time I ate this dish was at an Italian restaurant called Fabio's near Hershey, PA. If you happen to be traveling in that area, I recommend it! I saw this dish on the menu and took a chance on it, and it is so good! The more traditional preparation is eggplant, sliced, breaded and fried (just as in eggplant parmesan), but instead of layering them or just serving them in marinara, the eggplant is then smeared with a ricotta cheese mixture, rolled up, and baked in tomato sauce. It's cheesy, Italian comfort food heaven.
I came home and have since made the dish a time or two, but it takes a long time to make, has several preparation steps, and it's not the healthiest. Don't get me wrong; the original recipe is well worth the effort, but when I saw the Cooks Illustrated variation in their July/August 2014 issue, I knew it was time to bring the recipe back.
What CI does is skip the breading and frying steps, thereby saving time and calories. The whole thing is made in the span of something like an hour and can be broken up into stages. Funny thing? And don't slap me for this one, but you don't even miss the breading. Seriously. See, the breading usually becomes a little soggy during the baking process, so the crunch is a bit lost. If you did miss it, then you could probably sprinkle the tops of each roll with regular or panko breadcrumbs before baking and still get a similar effect.
If you have a lot of eggplant, or just love eggplant recipes, try this one. It's a keeper!
adapted from Cooks Illustrated, July/August 2014
2 medium eggplants, each approximately1 ½ half lbs.
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup ricotta cheese (recommended NOT skim ricotta)
¾ cup Pecorino Romano cheese (or Parmesan/Parmigiano Reggiano/Asiago)
½ cup bread crumbs
½ + ¼ cup fresh basil, chopped – divided
1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
Kosher Salt and Pepper
1 (28 ounces) can of diced tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon oregano
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4- 1/2 c grated mozzarella cheese
Pre-heat your oven to 375 F Degrees and prepare 2 baking sheets with parchment paper, lightly sprayed or oiled.
Peel the eggplants. Cut them lengthwise ½ inch thick slices. Trim the rounded ends so that they will lay flat. Place the eggplant on the baking sheets in an even, single layer.
Brush the eggplant slices on each tray with olive oil and season with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Flip each slice and do the same thing for the other side.
Place both sheets in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until they are tender and lightly browned. To ensure even baking, switch and rotate sheets half way through the baking process.
In the mean time, make the filling. Place 1 cup of ricotta cheese , ½ cup bread crumbs, ½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, ¼ cup chopped fresh basil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and ½ teaspoon salt. Stir until they are all combined. Set aside.
To make the tomato sauce, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large ovenproof skillet. Add the garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, oregano, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Stir them with a wooden spatula and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes and cook in medium low heat, until it thickens. Cover and set aside.
When eggplants are baked, let them cool for 5 minutes. Do not turn the oven off. Heat the broiler.
With the widest side of the eggplant slices facing you, evenly distribute the ricotta mixture onto each slice. Starting from the widest end, gently roll each piece and place it, seam side down, in the pan with the tomato sauce.
Bring it to a simmer over medium heat. Allow it to cook for 5 minutes. Place the skillet in the oven and broil for 5 minutes for the eggplants to be browned and the cheese to cook thoroughly. If you want, halfway through the broil, top with about 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese.
To finish it up, sprinkle it with ¼ cup of grated Pecorino Romano and 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley or basil.
- This is the recipe that allowed me to have leftover ricotta mixture for these bruschetta. Any leftover filling works great as a spread for crostini/bruschetta or likely in another pasta dish.
- I did not love the tomato sauce I made for this (followed the recipe). It wasn't bad, but it just didn't taste...completed. You can of course use jarred sauce. Less kitchen cred, but more of a time saver and sure bet.
- If you want to make this in stages/ do some make ahead, you can make the ricotta mixture and bake off the eggplant ahead of time. If you do that, you will want to let the ricotta soften a bit before you try to spread it over the eggplant by taking it out of the fridge about 15-30 minutes before you plan to spread it on the eggplant.
- The original recipe didn't call for it, but I did grate some mozzarella over the top and put it in with about 3 minutes to go in the broil.