Tue Mar 17, 2015
Italians have a way with eggplant and cheese—it seems like there's endless variations on the theme, all of them incredibly delicious. I had an idea to make one of my favorite incarnations, eggplant parm, on the grill, but while collecting ingredients, had a bit of a change of heart and went another route with grilled eggplant rollantini. I thought this would be a better use of the flames since tender, grilled eggplant are the perfect medium for stuffing and rolling.
Before heading to the grill, I had to get all the pieces together. That meant spending some time putting together a fresh marinara sauce. You could go with bottled, but I've found the little effort it takes to make it fresh is well rewarded with an extra-bright and flavorful sauce.
There's not much to it really, I started by heating garlic and red pepper flakes slowly in extra-virgin olive oil to both flavor the oil and keep the garlic and pepper from burning. Then I added in a 28oz can of crushed tomatoes, brought it to boil, then let it simmer until slightly thickened—about 20 minutes. I finished the sauce with fresh basil, salt, and pepper and in about 25 minutes time, most of it inactive, I had a simple, excellent marinara to make my rollatini as good as it could be.
Next I made the filling, which started with a cup each of some of the finest ricotta and mozzarella known to man, which procured from Casa della Mozzarella in the Bronx. Although both of those cheeses were of the finest quality, the truth is mozzarella and ricotta aren't that flavorful, so to give the filling a boost in that department, I mixed in sharp provolone and parmesan. I also added an egg for binding and fresh chopped basil for an herbal touch.
There's debate over whether eggplant slices need to be salted and let sit to draw out moisture to get the most tender result with optimal flavor. In the past, I've done my grilled eggplant both salted and not, and they seemed to come great either way. I never put the two methods to a side-by-side comparison though, so decided to do exactly that this day. Half of my eggplant slices I salted and let stand at room temperature for one hour prior to grilling, the other half I seasoned right before throwing on the grill. Both sets I lightly oiled before grilling.
All the eggplant cooked up in just about same amount of time and had a comparable texture and flavor. My theory is that salting is meant to draw out moisture that otherwise would take a while to cook out, but with such a hot fire on the grill, the heat drew the moisture out just fine on its own, making it totally fine to slice the eggplant, season, oil, and grill without all that waiting.
After letting the eggplant slices cool slightly, I dolloped a heaping tablespoon of filling on the end of each and rolled them closed.
Next I spread a healthy portion of the marinara along the bottom of a serving platter. I nestled the eggplant rolls in that sauce, then topped them with additional sauce followed by mozzarella and parmesan.
To make use of the heat the grill was still exporting, I placed the platter on the grill, over indirect heat, covered, and let the rollatini cook until the cheeses melted and everything was heated through.
Lets face it, this is really just a cheese delivery system, and it did a fantastic job. The filling was creamy and sweet with a light bite from the parmesan and provolone to give it a flavor that stood out. The eggplant was a worthy vessel, providing its own distinct creaminess to the party plus the substantialness to make this feel like a meal. The marinara brought the bright, acidic freshness that made it feel alright to gorge in that unhealthy amount cheese. Altogether it was on top of the Italian cheese plus eggplant creations, which is saying a lot.
Grilled Eggplant Rollatini
- Prep Time:
- 45 Minutes
- Cook Time:
- 25 Minutes
- Total Time:
- 1 Hour 10 Minutes
- 4 servings
- For the Marinara
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons freshly minced garlic (about 2 medium cloves)
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- For the Rollatini
- 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
- 1 cup grated fresh mozzarella, divided
- 1/3 cup grated sharp provolone
- 2/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish
- 2 large eggplants, ends trimmed and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- For the Marinara: Place oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook until fragrant and bubbles start to form around garlic, 30-60 seconds. Stir in crushed tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in basil. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- For the Rollatini: Whisk together ricotta, 1/3 cup of mozzarella, provolone, 1/3 cup parmesan, egg, and 1/4 cup basil in a medium bowl. Set aside.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Brush eggplant slices with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill eggplant slices until browned on both sides, 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer to a large tray or cutting board.
- Place a heaping tablespoon of ricotta filling on wider end of eggplant slice and roll eggplant closed around filling. Repeat with remaining eggplant slices and filling.
- Spread a thin layer of marinara sauce along the bottom of a large tray or shallow baking dish. Place eggplant rolls in dish and top with remaining mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Place on cool side of the grill, cover with aluminum foil, and let cook until cheese has melted, about 15 minutes. Remove from grill, garnish with additional basil, and serve.