Involtini are small stuffed roll-ups made with either thinly sliced meats or vegetables. These involtini are made using thinly sliced roasted eggplant (milinciana in the Sicilian dialect), filled with a flavorful browned bread crumb (muddica atturata) mixture, and baked in tomato sauce. This delicious traditional filling is made with toasted bread crumbs, shallots, Percorino cheese, pine nuts, currants, and herbs. The process in making these is a little lengthy but rewarding in the end. To cut down on prep time, you can use a ready-made basic tomato sauce.
The usual way to make Involtini di Melanzana (Italian word for eggplant) is to fry the eggplant slices first, which involves using copious amounts of olive oil because eggplants absorb oil like dry sponges. I try to avoid frying foods whenever possible. There’s always a cloying odor that lingers in your house for several days after frying. For these, I roast the eggplant instead, which is easier and there’s less mess to clean up.
STUFFED EGGPLANT ROLLS: INVOLTINI DI MELANZANA
(Involtini di Milinciana/Involtini di Melanzana)
Difficulty Rating: Moderate
Makes 18 to 20 involtini.
2 large eggplants
1/4 cup salt
3 cups basic tomato sauce, homemade or purchased
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
18 – 20 pieces Caciocavallo or Asiago cheese cut into 2-inch by 1/4-inch lozenges (optional)
Fresh basil leaves, minced or chiffonade for garnish
For the Filling:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup diced shallot or onion
1 1/2 cups plain dry breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup currants
3 tablespoons minced Italian parsley leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper
PREPARE THE EGGPLANT: Place 6-quarts of water and 1/4 cup salt in a large bowl and stir to dissolve.
Cut off the stem and bottom end of each eggplant. Slice the skin off the front and back of the eggplant and discard. Slice eggplant into 1/4-inch thick slices using a knife or mandolin.
Place the eggplant in the bowl of salted water. Place a small dish on top to weigh the eggplants and keep them submerged. Let soak for 1 hour. Soaking in salt water draws some of the bitterness out of the eggplant. Drain the eggplant slices and pat dry with paper towels.
MAKE THE FILLING: Heat 1/4 cup oil, over medium-high heat, in a large frying pan. Add shallots and cook for 5 minutes, until soft.
Reduce heat to medium. Stir in breadcrumbs and cook, stirring constantly for 5 to 6 minutes, until lightly golden in color. Remove from heat and continue stirring for 1 additional minute to prevent burning. The pan will still be hot and the breadcrumbs will continue to brown for a minute. Transfer to a medium bowl and let cool for 20 minutes. Stir in the grated cheese, pine nuts, currants, parsley, and basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
ROAST THE EGGPLANT: Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Pour 1/2 cup of oil into a baking sheet. Place in the oven for 5 minutes, until oil is hot.
Place half of the eggplant slices in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake 5 minutes. Add more oil if necessary to prevent the eggplant from sticking. Turn the slices over and bake 3 minutes longer. Transfer to a dish lined with paper towels to absorb the oil. Pour the remaining oil into the baking sheet and cook the remaining eggplant slices. Let cool slightly.
ASSEMBLE THE INVOLTINI: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread 1 1/2 cups of sauce on the bottom of a rectangular baking dish.
Lay a slice of eggplant on a plate or flat surface. Place about 2 heaping tablespoons full of filling in on one end of the eggplant slice. Place a piece of cheese across the top of the filling and roll the eggplant jelly-roll style. Place seam-side down into the baking dish. Repeat with the remaining eggplant slices.
Spoon the remaining sauce along the top of the eggplant rolls.
BAKE THE INVOLTINI: Place the involtini in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Sprinkle top with fresh basil before serving.