Involtini di Melanzane (Stuffed Eggplant)
A little chopped fresh mint, added along with the basil, is a bright addition to the stuffing mixture. Toasted, chopped almonds can be used in place of the pine nuts. Want it a bit spicier? Add a good pinch of pepperoncini (red pepper flakes.) Servings: 6-8
2 to 3 medium-sized eggplants, trimmed and sliced lengthwise into ⅓-inch thick ovals
2 tsp (12 g) sea salt
Sicilian olive oil or any good quality, flavorful olive oil
4 cups (360 g) toasted breadcrumbs
½ cup (75 g) thinly sliced ham, diced
1½ cups (150 g) diced cheese, such as a Primo Sale (aged, salted ricotta) or aged pecorino
¾ cup (15 g) fresh basil, cut into chiffonade, (thin ribbons)
1½ (135 g) cups freshly grated parmesan cheese
3 cups (675 g) tomato sauce, homemade preferably
½ -¾ (80-125 g) cup raisins
½ (70 g) cup pine nuts
Preheat oven to 375° F (190 ° C). Place sliced eggplant on a baking sheet. Sprinkle each slice with a little salt and olive oil. Roast until tender, about 15 minutes. Let cool. Reduce oven to 350° F (175° C).
While the eggplant is roasting, toast bread crumbs in a hot, dry skillet. Transfer bread crumbs into a large mixing bowl and toss in the ham, diced cheese, and ½ cup of the sliced basil. Give it a stir and add ¾ cup of Parmesan, and just enough tomato sauce to just moisten the mixture. Drizzle in a bit of olive oil, the raisins and pine nuts. Lightly stir and check for moistness. If it’s too dry, add a bit more tomato sauce and/or olive oil.
Cover the bottom of your baking dish with a thin layer of tomato sauce. Squeeze a handful of bread crumb mixture together and place in the center of roasted eggplant slice, and roll up. Place eggplant roll seam side down in the baking dish. When all the eggplant slices have been filled and rolled, top with more tomato sauce, the remaining basil and Parmesan cheese. Bake until sauce is bubbly and the top is just beginning to brown, about 20 to 30 minutes.
Eggplant is a staple in Sicilian cooking. In the open-air markets around the island, you’ll sometimes see a dozen different types of eggplant sporting myriad colors and shapes: purple and white striated, small lavender, creamy white slender ones and the regal, large purple that we use in this recipe. Open a bottle of Sicilian red wine (Frappato would be good) and enjoy this regional specialty from the west coast of the island.