When I think of meals for summer, my mind often turns to the light and flavoursome classics of the Mediterranean kitchen. Today’s recipe, Eggplant Involtini or involtini di melanzane, is a gorgeously summery vegetarian dish, perfect for serving in the warmer months.
What is Eggplant Involtini?
Involtini is simply the Italian word for rolls, so is used to describe any food that is rolled up. In this case, we bake eggplant slices until meltingly soft, stuff them with a cheesy, herby mixture of ricotta, Parmesan and spinach and bake them in a lightly spicy tomato sauce.
Topped with gooey melted mozzarella, pine nuts and fresh basil, one bite of this classic Eggplant Involtini will transport you directly to Italy!
OK, I’m sold. But the recipe looks long… is it difficult to make Eggplant Involtini?
Not at all! I’ve given very detailed instructions which makes the recipe look more complicated than it really is, but it breaks down into three parts:
- ROAST THE EGGPLANT: This is to soften it up and get it ready for rolling. Lots of older recipes call for frying eggplant, but I find it’s easier (not to mention healthier) to roast it in the oven instead, and it is just as delicious.
- MAKE A TOMATO SAUCE: Homemade tomato sauce is so simple and tastes SO MUCH BETTER than store-bought. Not to mention, YOU get to decide what goes into it, so no strange preservatives or other chemicals.
- MAKE THE CHEESY STUFFING: So easy, the stuffing is simply a matter of stirring together the ingredients, then rolling up and roasting. Trust me, this is so good.
Eggplant Involtini is a brilliant vegetarian meal
With grocery costs rising, eating a vegetarian meal here and there is not only good for you and the planet, but good for the wallet too! Parmesan cheese is not vegetarian, so if you are catering for true vegetarians be sure to use an animal-free alternative instead, or simply leave it out.
This is a perfect recipe to make in advance!
Recipes like this were invented in the heat of an Italian summer when the last thing anyone actually wants to be doing is sweating over the oven, so they’re all about prepping in advance. I like to get my Eggplant Involtini all made up in the cooler morning hours, so I can throw them in the oven and exit stage left just before lunchtime.
If you like, you could cook this recipe up to three days in advance and simply reheat it, covered loosely with foil, before serving.
What should I serve with Eggplant Involtini?
This is lazy summer eating at its best. I’d recommend nothing more complicated that some good white bread. If you’re going for a bit more of a feast, these involtini make a great addition to a summer BBQ. Of course, a wonderfully Italian dish like this is delicious with a glass or two of Italian red, Chianti (straw basket optional), Sangiovese or Primitivo – that’s Zinfandel for all my American readers. Cin cin!
Looking for more Classic Italian recipes?
Since living in Italy, the cucina Italiana has stolen my heart. Some of my favourites are Beef Shank Osso Bucco or Speck and Artichoke Risotto, but there are loads more – just search for ‘Italian’ to find more.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
I don’t drink alcohol, can I leave it out of this recipe?
Of course. Simply replace it with the same amount of water.
I can’t get ricotta – is there an alternative?
Yes, you can use cream cheese or even cottage cheese with similar results. You can even try making your own cream cheese using my recipe here. If you don’t blend as in the recipe it you have a very simple homemade ricotta.
How long in advance can I make Eggplant Involtini?
Roughly three days, though as long as you have a good fridge they’ll be fine for another day or two at least.
Can I double or triple this recipe?
Go for it! Don’t forget to cook the sauce for longer, as the more liquid you have, the more time it will take to cook down.
I like to use baby spinach leaves in the stuffing. Not only are they delicious, they are super healthy too.
This is a great recipe for preparing in advance, especially on a warm summer day. Served simply with good white bread and a bottle of red wine, this is Italy on a plate.
TO SALT, OR NOT SALT EGGPLANT?
Why don’t we salt eggplants anymore? Well, plenty of people do, and plenty of recipes still call for this step, but the simple fact is that salting eggplants is no longer necessary to remove bitterness.
Like most modern day fruit and vegetables, the eggplants we eat today have been specially bred to be tasty and not bitter (among other less exciting things like a long shelf life and hard to bruise skin).
We don’t have to salt the eggplant to draw out the bitterness anymore because they are not bitter in the first place!
- 2 large eggplants / aubergines
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
for the sauce:
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 1 large red onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, diced
- 1 Tbsp tomato paste
- 400g (15 oz.) can of whole tomatoes
- 100ml (½ cup) red wine
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp chilli flakes
- ½ tsp sugar
- 2 bay leaves, crumbled if dried
for the filling:
- 125g (4 oz.) baby spinach leaves
- 250g (8.5 oz.) ricotta, drained
- 50g (4 Tbsp) Parmesan cheese, grated
- zest of half a lemon
- pinch of nutmeg
- sea salt and black pepper
- 1 ball of fresh mozzarella, drained
- 2 Tbsp pine nuts (optional)
- small bunch of fresh basil
- PREPARE: Heat the oven to 180°C / 350°F / Gas 4 and line an oven tray with baking paper (see notes).
- COOK THE EGGPLANTS: Cut the eggplants lengthways into 12 slices, approximately 1cm / ¼ in. each. Lay on the prepared oven tray and brush with olive oil. Cook in the preheated oven for 20 minutes until soft. Set aside to cool.
- SAUTÉ THE ONION AND GARLIC: Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook the onion gently for 4 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook a further minute.
- MAKE THE SAUCE: Use a pair of scissors to chop the tomatoes in the can, then add to the saucepan with half a can of water. Add all other sauce ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- BLANCH THE SPINACH: Place the spinach in a heatproof bowl and pour over boiling water. Allow to stand for 30 seconds, then drain and refresh under cold water. Use your hands to squeeze out as much liquid as possible, then chop finely. Squeeze again after chopping.
- MAKE THE FILLING: Stir together the spinach and all other filling ingredients until smooth. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper.
- ROLL THE EGGPLANT: Spread half of the tomato sauce over the base of an ovenproof casserole dish. Add a tablespoon of filling to each eggplant slice near the base Roll up loosely, placing each into the casserole dish as you go.
- BAKE: Top the eggplant rolls (involtini) with the remaining sauce, then tear the mozzarella into small pieces and scatter over the top. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, until bubbling and piping hot.
- SERVE: If using, gently toast the pine nuts in a dry pan and set them aside. When the involtini are cooked, scatter over the pine nuts and fresh basil and serve with soft white bread.
WINE RECOMMENDATION: A medium-dry red wine like Chianti / Sangiovese is delicious with Eggplant Involtini, with this combination you’ll almost be able to feel the Tuscan sunshine!
Depending on the size of your oven, you may find you need to bake the eggplant on two trays. Check to ensure the eggplant is lovely and tender before you remove it from the oven.
Garlic lovers! (I'm looking at those of you in the U.S!) You can go right ahead and use as much garlic as you like in this dish (you were going to anyway right?)
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 457Total Fat: 24gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 27mgSodium: 827mgCarbohydrates: 53gFiber: 15gSugar: 20gProtein: 10g
Nutrition information is calculated automatically and isn’t always accurate.