Eggplant Involtini with Ricotta and Pesto
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Serves: 4
 
Eggplant Involtini is the perfect Italian comfort food. This particular recipe is vegetarian and gluten free... until you add slices of toasted bread on the side, which is a must. If you can't have gluten, I highly recommend finding a good gluten-free bread you can toast and serve to sop up all that amazing tomato sauce!
Ingredients
For the tomato sauce:
  • 2 lbs. fresh roma tomatoes, seeds removed and roughly chopped*
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ tsp. dried oregano
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • salt, to taste
  • 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
For the filling:
  • ¾ cup ricotta cheese (I recommend the full fat variety)
  • ⅓ cup fresh basil pesto (you can use storebought or homemade, see recipe notes**)
  • pinch of salt, to taste
For the involtini:
  • 2 medium-large eggplants (about 1 lb. each)
  • 2-3 TBSP olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • all of the ricotta/pesto filling
  • all of the tomato sauce
  • ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, divided
  • ½ cup toasted pine nuts
  • extra fresh basil, for garnish
  • Crusty bread, toasted, for serving
Instructions
For the tomato sauce:
  1. Seed the tomatoes, and chop roughly. In a large non-reactive skillet (stainless steel or nonstick), add the olive oil, garlic, oregano, crushed read pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt. Saute for 1-2 minutes over medium heat. Add the tomatoes, increase the heat to high, and cook until the tomatoes have softened and broken down into a sauce (about 15-20 minutes). Transfer to a food processor and pulse until slightly chunky, or completely smooth, whichever you prefer. Return the sauce to the pan and stir in the basil and balsamic vinegar. Taste, and add more salt as needed. Set aside.
For the filling:
  1. Mix the ricotta and pesto together in a bowl. Taste, and add a bit of salt if needed. Set aside.
For the involtini:
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. and line two baking sheets with parchment.
  2. Remove the top and bottoms of the eggplants, and slice lengthwise into ¼-1/2 inch thick slabs. You should have about 12-14 slices. Arrange in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets, and drizzle both sides lightly with olive oil, turning the slices to coat. Season both sides with salt and pepper.
  3. Roast eggplant in the oven at 375 degrees F. for about 30 minutes, or until softened but not mushy. (Or, do as I did since it's too hot to turn the oven on, and place the roasting pan on a grill over a medium flame. If you go the grill route, keep a close eye on the eggplant and flip the slices once or twice to keep them cooking evenly. The time will vary depending on your grill.) Roast until the eggplant slices are soft and pliable. Remove from the heat and let cool until you can handle them easily.
  4. Pour all but about ½ cup of the tomato sauce into the bottom of a 9x12 inch baking dish.
  5. Spoon 1-2 TBSP of filling onto one end of each slice of eggplant. Roll the eggplant up around the filling, and place seam-side down into the sauced baking dish. Repeat until all of the eggplant is rolled and nestled into a single layer in the sauce. Top the involtini with the remaining sauce, sprinkle with half of the parmesan cheese, and bake until bubbly and hot all the way through (about 15-20 minutes in the oven at 375 degrees F., or do as I did and place on the grill over a low flame until heated through (time will vary)).
  6. Garnish with the remaining parmesan, toasted pinenuts, and basil. Serve with crusty bread, preferably toasted (or brushed with olive oil and garlic, and grilled).
Notes
*I chose to use fresh tomatoes because they are too hard to resist when they're in season. The best tomatoes for a sauce like this are Roma, because they have a lot of meat and fairly few seeds, but if you happen to have a lot of heirloom tomatoes like I did, they'll work, too -- you'll just need more of them to make enough sauce. I left the peels on my tomatoes because I find I don't mind the texture, but if you'd prefer a smoother consistency to your sauce, you can remove the skins by cutting a small X in the bottom of each tomato, quickly blanching them in boiling water, and then plopping them into an ice bath. This will loosen the skins so you can peel them off easily with your fingers. Proceed with the recipe as written.

If fresh tomatoes aren't in season or you'd rather not bother with them, you could also use canned. I suggest going for whole canned tomatoes -- a big 48oz can should do. Use the canned tomatoes along with their juices, and cook them with the garlic and spices as you would fresh. Cooking canned tomatoes will help to remove their metalic, tinny taste, so don't skip it. Continue with the recipe as written.

**If you have fresh basil, I highly recommend turning it into homemade pesto for this recipe. You can find my homemade basil and sunflower seed pesto HERE -- in this case, I just swapped the sunflower seeds for toasted pine nuts to make a classic pesto.
Recipe by Will Cook For Friends at https://www.willcookforfriends.com/2016/08/eggplant-involtini-with-ricotta-and-pesto.html