Happy Monday all!
I hope everyone thoroughly enjoyed the weekend! I spent my weekend relaxing, settling in to my new apartment, and of course, cooking. For some reason, I can’t get my mind off eggplant, I am absolutely in love with it…and, it just might be my favorite vegetable. Plus, I just love saying it in Italian, melanzana (melan’dzana). I have eaten eggplant several ways, in a Greek dish called moussaka, a Middle Eastern dish called baba ghanoush, a French dish called ratatouille, and of course, last but not least, the classic Italian dish parmigiana di melanzane (or Eggplant parmesan).
For years, I have stumbled across quite a few dishes called eggplant rollatini, which is basically stuffed eggplant. There are quite a few variations of the dish, but what it boils down to is eggplant stuffed with cheese, rolled into little bundles, blanketed in a homemade tomato sauce, and baked off into the oven until melty, cheesy, perfection. Now, for many of you who know my cooking style, I don’t really like to stick with the grind of things unless I just absolutely have to. It’s plain and simple, I like originality, which means putting my own spin on classic dishes. Of course, I knew exactly what I was going to do with the beautiful ripe eggplant that I picked up at the market yesterday, make my own eggplant rollatini.
A while back, I made mushrooms stuffed with a sun-dried tomato pesto. I really love how easy and accessible making pesto is, so I decided to whip up a batch. That gave me a brilliant idea: eggplant+pesto=genius! This is probably going to be my new favorite dish! I begin by slicing the eggplant into semi-thick vertical slices, then I brush both sides of the eggplant with olive oil and a little chopped garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper and pop in the oven to bake for a bit. Then, I throw everything for the pesto into my food processor, give it a whirl, and bam, PESTO! After letting the eggplant cool for a bit, I spread each slice with a tablespoon of pesto. Then, for the trifecta, I place a little baby spinach over the pesto and roll the eggplant up into a little bundle. Then, I pop the rolled eggplant back into the oven for another go, just to mold the flavors together and wilt the spinach.
Now, you might ask, where is the tomato sauce, and the cheese, c’mon Chelsy…where is it? My reasoning for omitting the tomato sauce is simple, tomatoes have ALOT of acidity in them, and since I stuffed the eggplant with a sun-dried tomato pesto, I figured topping the eggplant with tomato sauce would have been tomato overkill. If you insist on tomato sauce, then I would suggest that you stuff the eggplant with a basil pesto instead. This way, you don’t end up with a huge stomach ache (like I normally do after eating acidic things). Now, my reasoning behind omitting the cheese is purely preference. You know that I am a parmesan fanatic, but I would rather sprinkle freshly grated parmesan on each bite of my eggplant as I am eating…that’s just the way I do it. If you really really need cheese on the eggplant, I would suggest topping the eggplant with a mixture of freshly grated part-skim mozzarella, and freshly grated parmesan.
One last thing that I absolutely love about eggplant is that it is extremely filling, it’s like the “steak” of vegetables, but without the steak. So, you can imagine that this eggplant dish is a fantastic meatless meal. The pesto adds a nice nutty texture to the baked eggplant, that is practically melt in your mouth. You can serve this dish as an entree for any meal, however, I usually have two on the side with whatever meat protein I am eating for the night. I would suggest pairing this eggplant dish with baked chicken or baked tilapia if using it as a side. Otherwise, grab a handful of parmesan, a glass of vino, and dig in! Also, a big congrats to Jeff Mauro for winning Food Network Star, I loved his “Sandwich King” concept and cannot wait to watch his show. Of course, his promo recipe was an eggplant parm sandwich, what a genius!
1 batch of sun-dried tomato pesto
3 Tbs. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium-sized eggplants (about 3 pounds), peeled, and sliced lengthwise into 3/8-inch thick strips
salt and black pepper
2 handfuls of fresh baby spinach
1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Spray two baking sheets with non-stick cooking spray.
2. Combine the oil and garlic in a small bowl.
3. Brush the oil on both sides of the eggplant slices and arrange them in a single layer on the baking sheets. Season with a pinch or two of salt and pepper.
4. Place the baking sheets side by side in the oven (if possible, if your baking sheets don’t fit side by side, place one on the middle rack and one on the bottom rack and rotate them a couple of times during baking). Bake for 20-25 minutes, until well browned and very tender, turn once halfway through cooking.
5. In the meantime, make the sun-dried tomato pesto.
6. Remove the eggplant from the oven and reduce the temperature to 350 F.
7. Spread each eggplant slice with 1 tablespoon of pesto and top with a few fresh spinach leaves.
8. Roll up and place seam side down in the baking dish.
9. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the rolls are heated through and the spinach looks wilted. Serve hot.
Makes about 4-5 servings.