Here is a relatively simple and very rewarding vegetable-based dinner. Involtini refers to a stuffed and rolled item, classically thinly pounded meat rolled around a savory filling. In this version, I have filled slices of softened eggplant with a stuffing of three cheeses, basil, capers, and lemon zest.
This is a great alternative to manicotti or lasagna if you’re trying to eat more vegetables or avoid gluten or grains. Serve this dish still bubbling straight from the oven and then save the leftovers for a second dinner a few nights later – the second go-round of a dish like this is often even better than the first.
3 medium eggplants, as close to oval in shape as possible (you want the stem end nearly as wide as the base)
S & P
2 C. cottage cheese, cultured, if possible. (Nancy’s is awesome, but not available everywhere).
6 oz. mozzerella, grated
3 oz. Pecorino-Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
2 Tbsp. capers
about 12 leaves fresh basil, torn
a jar of your favorite marinara sauce
1/4 C. dry white wine
1/2 tsp. chili flakes (optional)
Trim the tops off of the eggplant and slice each eggplant into lengthwise slices, 1/3” thick each. You want to get 5-6 nice, long slices from each eggplant. Sprinkle the slices on both sides with salt and set aside on paper towels to release some of their liquid, about 20 minutes. In the meantime, make the filling.
Puree the cottage cheese in a food processor or blender until smooth and ricotta-like, about 30 seconds. Ricotta can be substituted here, but I really love the tangyness that cottage cheese provides. The textures are very similar once pureed. Combine the three cheeses, the beaten eggs, the capers, lemon zest, and the basil and season with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir well to combine.
Pat the eggplant dry with the paper towels and heat a wide saute pan over medium-high heat. Cook the eggplant, 3 or 4 pieces at a time in hot olive oil until lightly browned on both sides and somewhat soft, 1-2 minutes per side. The eggplant takes on a lot of the oil, so you’ll need to add 1-2 Tbsp. of fresh oil for each batch. As the slices finish cooking, set them aside on a large plate or sheet pan to cool.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Pour about 1/4 of the jar of tomato sauce into a 9 x 13 baking dish. Add the 1/4 C. wine and the chili flakes back to the jar, put the lid on tightly and shake. Pour the rest of the sauce mixture into the pan. Most jarred marinara sauces are very thick, so the wine thins the sauce and helps prevent it from burning in the oven (as well as adding good flavor).
To stuff the eggplants, lay a slice down on your work surface with the bottom end toward you. Place roughly 3 Tbsp. filling at the bottom of the slice and simply roll up gently. Place the roll seam side down into the tomato sauce. Alternatively, you can lay out all your eggplant slices at once and divide the filling between them to be sure you don’t under or overfill. This recipe should yield between 12 and 16 involtini.
Cover the dish with foil and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling. Remove the dish from the oven and uncover. Spoon a little of the sauce over the eggplant slices to keep them moist and return to the oven for 15 minutes. Serve alone as a well rounded meal in itself, or with pasta, polenta, or any simply prepared grain.