September 21, 2012
Eggplant Rollatini and Metacognitive Cooking
Sometimes a dish doesn't mean anything.
I was an English major in college. Sometimes, in those super-intellectual, metacognitive moments that only exist while seated in the center of a very long seminar on the Russian Novel of the 19th Century, we would be in the deep throes of a discussion about what the character represents, and I would think to myself - maybe we're reading too much into this. Maybe he's just a character. Maybe he was just a character based on Tolstoy's next door neighbor or something. Maybe, every single word or line or character doesn't have a deeper meaning. Especially when that novel is 1400 pages long. Maybe, sometimes, stories are just stories. Meant to be enjoyed.
These days when I cook and when I write, I find myself riding the same thought train - maybe sometimes dishes are just dishes. Maybe not every plate of food needs to be analyzed and discussed.
And this is one of those dishes.
In short - eggplant parm, in all of it's cheese and tomato glory, is one of my most favorite dishes of all time. And, to me, eggplant rollatini is only a tricked-out version of the same. Rolled, stuffed - it all looks and sounds a little nicer, but in spite of it's attempt at fanciness, it's still not a glamorous dish by any means. It's kind of messy and not all that pretty or revolutionary. It is what it is.
Recently, I made it and I loved it and I thought, I want to share this. But then I thought - but what will I write? Where's the meaning of this eggplant rollatini? What makes it interesting? I caught myself in the middle of this line of reasoning and then I thought - the meaning of eggplant rollatini? Come on, Carrie - snap out of it.
So, I give you my eggplant rollatini. And I share it because, well, eggplant rollatini makes me feel good. And there were eggplants still around at the market and I wanted to use them - in spite of my dreaded eggplant throat itch. And because it's almost autumn and the evenings are kind of chilly and eggplant rollatini is the perfect antidote. So here it is - a dish just for the sake of eating something delicious.
What you'll need:
3-4 Japanese eggplants
1/2 lb fresh mozzarella
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
small handful parsley leaves, chopped
Salt and black pepper
2 cups marinara sauce
Trim the ends from the eggplant and using a mandoline or a knife, cut the eggplant into thin slices, lengthwise - about 1/4 inch thick.
Lay the slices of eggplant on a rack or around a large colander and sprinkle generously with salt. Leave the salted eggplant to sit for 15 minutes or so. This will draw the excess water from the eggplant and remove any bitterness.
Use a clean towel to blot the eggplant dry.
Preheat an oiled, cast iron grill pan and, working in batches, grill the eggplant slices for about 2 minutes on each side, or until tender.
Once all of the eggplant is grilled, set aside.
In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta, Parmesan, parsley and egg. Season with salt and black pepper.
Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
Ladle a bit of tomato sauce into the bottom of a baking dish - to prevent the eggplant from sticking to the bottom.
Laying a slice of eggplant flat in front of you, use a teaspoon to dollop filling on one end of the eggplant slice. Carefully roll the eggplant around the filling and transfer the rolled, stuffed eggplant to the oven dish.
Repeat the same for all of the eggplant and filling.
Ladle the tomato sauce over the eggplant.
Cut the fresh mozzarella into slices about 1/4 inch thick. Scatter the mozzarella around the top of the sauce.
Place the dish into the center rack of the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, or until the mozzarella cheese is brown and bubbly.