With my 92 year old mom finally out of rehab, I’m reverting for a few weeks to a decidedly Italian orientation in my cooking to try and please her somewhat finicky palate.
When my hubby enthusiastically returned home with two large eggplants he’d gotten for a buck at Harris Teeter, my first thought was “those are going to make a ton of eggplant parm!”
And if I’m being totally truthful, my second thought was that I hate large eggplants because they are invariably seedy, making me long for the creamy smooth local baby eggplants I get in the market during summer.
BUT, I did not want to hurt my wonderful husband’s feelings – AND since eggplants are one of the Clean Fifteen, I looked for an idea that would capitalize on the enormous size of his bargain eggplants.
I decided to create something fresh by cutting the eggplant lengthwise and rolling the eggplant slices around a savory ricotta-sausage filling. I also vowed to not smother the taste of the eggplant with an overdose of UAV mozzerella (which I’m often guilty of when making eggplant parmesan).
I cut the tops and bottoms off each eggplant, and trimmed each rounded side to create long 1/2 inch thick slices. I basted each side with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled on some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, and baked the lengthwise slices in a 375 degree oven for about 35-40 minutes. My eggplant slices emerged thoroughly cooked and pliable for stuffing and I only used a small amount of olive oil.
While my eggplant slices were baking, I grated a single Tofurky Spinach Pesto Sausage into 8 ounces of super fresh ricotta and mozzerella (from my favorite cheesemaker, Zack Gadberry, owner of Uno All Volta, aka U.A.V.), adding modest amounts of grated Parmegiano-Reggiano, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, fresh Genoa basil, and Italian parsley.
The result was that the filling had a subtle sausage flavor that wouldn’t immediately telegraph to my mom that I was using plant-based protein instead of the Italian sausage she dearly loves.
When the eggplant slices were baked, I added a couple of tablespoons of the ricotta-sausage filling on the narrow end of each eggplant slice – and then rolled them up.
Luckily, I had made a very large batch of veggie-rich pasta sauce in the slow cooker earlier in the week (with lots of onions, garlic, yellow and red bell peppers, zucchini, and Muir Glen Fire Roasted Tomatoes). You may have sauce in your freezer . . . but even, if you are short on time and need to resort to jarred sauce, this recipe will give you a fresh spin on what to do with extra eggplant.
Oh . . . and about that vow to not junk up my dish with too much mozzerella??
Well, we liked it without the mozzerella on top – but we adored it once we added mozz!
I know it would have been healthier without it – but maybe not quite as satisfying!
- 2 large eggplants (about 1.5 lbs each)
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tofurky Spinach Pesto Sausage, grated
- 8 ounces whole milk fresh ricotta cheese
- 8 ounces fresh mozzerella, grated (divided use)
- ¾ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (divided use)
- ¼ cup torn fresh basil leaves (divided use)
- ¼ cup chopped Italian parsley (divided use)
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Quart of homemade marinara sauce, fresh or frozen (or jarred, if you must!)
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Spray the parchment paper generously with vegetable spray.
- Slice the top and bottom of each eggplant. Cut a thin piece off each side so that when you slice the eggplant lengthwise into ½ inch thick slices, each slice will lie flat on your prepared baking sheet. Baste each side of the eggplant slices with olive oil and sprinkle them with sea salt and pepper. Pop them into the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, turning the slices over about half-way through the cooking time.
- While the eggplant is baking, grate your Tofurky sausage with a box grater, and stir into the ricotta. Add about 2 ounces of the mozzerella, ½ of the grated parmesan, all but one tablespoon of the basil and parsley, and all of the lemon juice. Taste, and judiciously season with a little sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Heat up your marinara sauce in a large oven-proof skillet.
- Once your eggplant slices are cooked, let them cool for a few minutes. When cool enough to handle, start with the widest end of the eggplant slice facing you, and put about 2-3 tablespoons of the ricotta mixture on the bottom third of each slice, and then gently roll up the eggplant. Place each bundle seam side down in the heated tomato sauce. Now, you can either put the skillet in the oven to heat through for 5-10 minutes and eat your eggplant without added cheese and be virtuous - or you can be an unrepetent cheese-head (like me), and add the remaining mozzerella and parmesan before you pop the skillet back in the oven. Either way, sprinkle on the remaining basil and parsley when it emerges from the oven, and serve.
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