Mushroom & Ricotta Eggplant Spirals
Much like I did with meat, in my early days of cooking I had a fascination with creating veggie rolls too. While I used a few different vegetables for the base, eggplant was my go-to because its size and texture made it the most well suited choice and worked great with stuffings like goat cheese and herbs, Greek yogurt with cucumber, and seasoned ricotta. Also similar to meat rolls, I've let veggie rolls fall off the radar for many years now, but got back on that bus this past summer when I decided to craft these grilled mushroom and ricotta eggplant spirals.
These came about when the menu I was working on lacked any substantial vegetarian offering, and when I run into that problem, mushrooms tend to jump to mind because they usually deliver a satisfactory heartiness that fills the void. I had done a mushroom sandwich I was quite fond of early in the season, so was looking for something pretty different as a shroom delivery device, and that's when stuffing them into grilled eggplant got the nod.
I kept the mushroom part of the recipe pretty simple by choosing to use the common crimini and then only giving them the standard salt, pepper, and oil seasoning before grilling. To cook them, I placed the mushrooms over indirect high heat on the the grill, covered, and waited until they softened and developed pools of moisture in the center. Then I flipped each one and kept cooking them until fully tender and they developed some browning or grill marks here and there.
Once all done, I roughly chopped all the mushrooms and formed them into a more complex stuffing with ricotta as the base. To the ricotta and mushrooms, I added a lot of parmesan cheese to give the mixture a sharp and savory bite, with a little garlic helping in that arena too. I also added a combination of herbs, utilizing sage, thyme, and chives, but you can really toss in your favorites, or whatever you had on hand, and come out with a very similar end result.
When choosing to make eggplant, I never thought that procuring this ubiquitous fruit was going to be the most challenging part of the recipe, but when I went shopping, the first and second grocery stores I went to both were totally sold out of the large globe eggplants I needed. While I started to think of alternatives at that point, when I'm put in this type of situation, I often take it as a challenge, so felt the strong need to make sure no grocery store had eggplant before surrendering. The next stop had a few eggplants I was able to grab, then my fourth stop had more and I finally had enough to feed all my guests.
Over a hot fire, the grilling of the seasoned and oiled eggplant went pretty quickly. While a lot of recipes may recommend salting and letting the eggplant stand for a bit before cooking, in my years of testing, I've found this unnecessary when using the grill as the high heat produced by charcoal is very effective at drawing moisture out and rendering the eggplant tender and delicious. One thing to watch for is that eggplant can go from perfectly pliable and browned, to overly darkened and falling apart pretty quickly, so it's good to keep a close eye on the slices and flip them regularly to ensure everything is cooking according to plan.
I waited until all the eggplant was done before final assembly—these rolls are perfectly good at room temperature. To make the spirals, all that was left to do was to spread a layer of the filling along the surface of each piece of eggplant, and then roll closed.
I always like a dish I can fully assemble before guests arrive and will be fine as it sits out, and these eggplant spirals delivered on that and my me happy. They also tasted great, with the almost creamy texture of the eggplant melding with the cheesy interior that had a very filling heartiness thanks to the large amount of mushrooms also inside. The mushroom's earthy character was well countered by the fresh herbs and stood up against the nutty and savory qualities of the parmesan, which was well represented the final roll. The only thing that didn't hit quite right was really a failing of my own making—these were the main offering for the non-meat eaters on this particular day, and while the rolls were filling, the still felt more like an appetizer or side. So that's not really a knock on the dish itself, just a word of advice of the best way to fit these delicious little rolls into your own meal.
Mushroom & Ricotta Eggplant Spirals
- Yield 6-8 servings
- Prep 15 Minutes
- Cook 20 Minutes
- Total 35 Minutes
- For the Filling
- 1 1/2 lbs cremini mushrooms, cleaned and stems removed
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 cups ricotta cheese
- 2 oz grated parmesan cheese
- 2 teaspoons finely minced fresh sage
- 2 teaspoons finely minced fresh thyme
- 2 teaspoons finely minced chives
- 2 teaspoons freshly minced garlic (about 2 medium cloves)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Kosher salt
- For the Eggplant
- 3 large eggplants, ends trimmed and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- To make the filling: 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 grilling grate. Place mushrooms in a large bowl. Add in oil and salt and pepper to taste; toss to coat evenly. Place mushrooms on cool side of grill and cover. Cook mushrooms until tender, reduced in size, and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to a cutting board and roughly chop.
- In a large bowl, mix together ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, sage, thyme, chives, garlic, and chopped mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- To make the eggplant: Brush eggplant slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Working in batches as necessary, place eggplant slices on hot side of grill and cook until well browned and softened, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer eggplant slices to a large tray or cutting board.
- Spread a layer of filling over each eggplant slice. Roll eggplant slices into spirals and serve immediately.