At the grocery store I discovered some lovely eggplant. Now, eggplant and I have a history. I've detested most renditions of Eggplant Parmesan (except a local family-owned Italian restaurant's version), but I've enjoyed eggplant primavera (where you saute eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, tomatoes, etc. and eventually come out with a lovely, chunky pasta sauce). The eggplant has always intrigued me. It's thick meaty texture means it should make a healthy and filling stand-in for meat, and it's a pretty purple (unless you skin it, like most recipes call for). So I'm always, in theory anyway, excited about the idea of experimenting with this misunderstood vegetable.
I'm not sure where I found a recipe for Eggplant Rollatini (think vegetarian stuffed shells), but I ended up not even following it, so I guess that means I made up my own recipe!
1 large eggplant, peeled and sliced lengthwise
sea salt (NOT ground)
1 cup olive oil
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp chopped basil
1 cup ricotta
First, slice peel and slice the eggplant lengthwise so that it's about 1/4 inch thick. Observe:
The point here is that you need to be able to wrap it around some ricotta, so it needs to be thin enough to be pliable, but not so thin that it dissolves when you bake it later on.
Next, and this is really the secret to anything involving eggplant, sweat your eggplant! I did this by salting each side with sea salt, and then leaving it in a pan for 30 minutes. You need big chunks of the salt. Don't grind it into a powder.
What happens during those 30 minutes is key to good eggplant (or so I'm told): All that salt draws much of the water (and bitterness) out. You have to use big grains of salt because otherwise all the salt kind of dissolves into the eggplant, and you want to eventually rinse the salt water off the slices.
When the eggplant is almost done sweating, turn your oven's broiler on. Mix olive oil, Parmesan cheese and basil in a bowl. I included measurements above, but you you can eyeball these depending on the amount of eggplant you actually have.
Spread your rinsed off eggplant slices onto a baking sheet (or two). Get a brush (I actually bought a pack of three paint brushes a few years ago and I've been using these in my cooking) and brush the mixture onto one side of the eggplant. Don't use all of it or you'll have to make more for the other sides (which is also fine, again I made this recipe up!)
These will go under your broiler for 5 minutes on each side (I made that number up, too!)
While they get all warm and happy, measure out the ricotta and add salt and pepper to taste (you could also add basil, oregano, etc.). Mix the ricotta and egg until smooth (this is why you season this first, otherwise you'd end up eating raw egg when you check the seasonings). Add some parmesan cheese, any amount is fine (or mozzerella or any other kind of cheese). Or leave the extra cheese out altogether (but who doesn't like extra gooeyness?)
The eggplant will come out golden brown (or slightly black if you fail at checking them before they burn) and smelling of awesome. Plop a spoonful of the ricotta mixture at one end of the slice and then roll them up (if you're fingers haven't become immune to heat like mine have, you might want to wait until they've cooled slightly).
Line up your rolls in a baking pan (above), cover with pasta sauce and cheese and bake at 350 until cooked through and bubbly. I left mine in for 20 minutes, but you could go longer. Keep in mind there is raw egg in the ricotta, so that needs to get cooked, but 20 minutes should do it. Enjoy!