It’s not unusual that most of us would like to cut calories and fat where we can, but not loose flavor. With this riff on a Martha Stewart recipe, you bake rather than fry, for less mess and less fat. In addition, there is no salting of the eggplant to extract moisture—a process I’ve never grown fond of.
Another plus, make the chunky tomato sauce a day or two ahead and save time on dinner night. It only takes about 20 minutes total, then refrigerate in an air tight container, and you’re one step ahead of the game.
As we prepped the dish, we realized that a few tweaks to the recipe were needed. After coating the slices for one of the eggplants, we noted there would not be enough for all the remaining slices, so we quickly increased by about another 50%; while the amount of egg wash was spot on.
The shredded mozzarella was increased to 2 cups from 1 1/2, although we would even increase it more next time! The dried basil was swapped out for fresh, making sure to add it between layers as well as a garnish. One of those grocery store clamshells of basil is the perfect amount. These changes are noted in the ingredients below.
It was so light and tasty, The Hubs claimed it might be the best Eggplant Parm he’s ever had! Can’t wait to attack those leftovers… Serves 8 as a side dish, 6 as a main.
1 cup finely grated Parmesan, plus 2 Tbsp. for topping
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 oz. fresh basil, chopped to equal a loose 1/2 cup, save some whole leaves for garnish
2 large eggplants (2 1/2 lbs. total), peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
2+ cups shredded mozzarella
Tomato Sauce: In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium. Cook onion and garlic, stirring frequently, until translucent, 2 to 4 minutes. Crush tomatoes into pan; add oregano. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Make up to 3 days ahead.
Eggplant Parm: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush 2 baking sheets with oil; set aside. In a wide, shallow bowl, whisk together eggs and 2 tablespoons water. In another bowl, combine breadcrumbs, 1 cup grated Parmesan, and oregano; season with salt and pepper.
Dip eggplant slices in egg mixture, letting excess drip off, then dredge in breadcrumb mixture, coating well; place on baking sheets. Bake until golden brown on bottom, 20 to 25 minutes. Turn slices; continue baking until browned on other side, 20 to 25 minutes more. Remove from oven; raise oven heat to 400 degrees.
Spread 2 cups sauce in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange half the eggplant in dish; cover with 2 cups sauce, then 1 cup mozzarella and 1/2 of the chopped basil. Repeat with remaining eggplant, sauce, mozzarella and basil; sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Bake until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted, 15 to 20 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Here’s a lighter version of Eggplant Involtini that focuses on the eggplant. Baking instead of frying allows you to skip the salting and draining step, since the eggplant’s excess moisture evaporates in the oven, and it means that the eggplant’s flavor and meaty texture are not obscured by oil and breading. This was sooo good, we can’t wait to make it again!
Swapping the usual ricotta-heavy filling for one that’s boosted with a generous dose of Pecorino Romano means we can use less filling without sacrificing flavor. Lastly, make a simple but complementary tomato sauce in a skillet, add the eggplant bundles to it, and finish it under the broiler, which decreases the number of dishes required—always a plus in our book!
Of course we put our own spin on the dish, first by utilizing the pieces of eggplant cut away before planking them. What a waste it would be to discard all of that—about 3 cups worth! So we cubed those leftover pieces into about a 3/8″ dice and sautéed them in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil until softened before adding the tomatoes to the same skillet.
Now here comes the real twist. We added very thin slices of prosciutto on top of the eggplant slices before spooning on the cheese filling. Of course this step makes it no longer vegetarian, but that extra ingredient added even more depth of flavor. And we served ours with a side of gemelli pasta, which negates the low-carb factor, if you’re not concerned with that aspect.
1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, hand crushed coarsely in their juices
1 slice hearty white sandwich bread, torn into 1-inch pieces
8 oz. whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 ½ oz. grated Pecorino Romano cheese
¼ cup plus 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
4 oz. very thin slices of prosciutto, cut in half crosswise (optional)
Slice each eggplant lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick planks (you should have 12-15 planks). Trim rounded surface from each end piece so it lies flat.
Cut up those leftover rounded pieces into a 3/8″ dice and sauté them in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil in your large skillet until softened, about 5 minutes.
Adjust 1 oven rack to lower-middle position and second rack 8 inches from broiler element. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and spray generously with vegetable oil spray. Arrange eggplant slices in single layer on prepared sheets. Brush 1 side of eggplant slices with 2 1/2 tablespoons oil and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Flip eggplant slices and brush with 2 1/2 tablespoons oil and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Bake until tender and lightly browned, 30 to 35 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. Let cool for 5 minutes. Using thin spatula, flip each slice over. Heat broiler.
While eggplant planks cook, add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the diced eggplant in same broiler-safe skillet over medium-low heat until just shimmering. Add garlic, oregano, pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in hand crushed tomatoes and their juice. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes. Cover and set aside.
Pulse bread in food processor until finely ground, 10 to 15 pulses. Combine bread crumbs, ricotta, 1/2 cup Pecorino, 1/4 cup basil, lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in medium bowl.
With widest ends of eggplant slices facing you, place a half slice of prosciutto, if using, on the wide end of each plank. Next, evenly distribute ricotta mixture on bottom third of each slice. Gently roll up each eggplant slice and place seam side down in tomato sauce.
Bring sauce to simmer over medium heat. Simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer skillet to oven and broil until eggplant is well browned and cheese is heated through, 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Pecorino and let stand for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon basil and serve.
The name of the dish is said to originate from the apocryphal exclamation by the Italian writer Nino Martoglio who, upon tasting the dish, exclaimed “This is a real ‘Norma‘!”, comparing it with the exceptional perfection of the Vincenzo Bellini opera Norma.
We obtained the recipe from Milk Street, but changed the penne pasta to gemelli, which gives a twist to the texture and captures more of the sauce in its curves. Feel free to use whatever pasta suits your fancy.
The eggplant is typically fried before being added to the sauce, but here it is roasted to concentrate the flavors and condense the porous texture. The eggplant is in the oven for about 30 minutes unattended, except for one toss; so use that time to prep the other ingredients, cook the pasta and simmer the tomatoes to make the sauce.
If you’ve never had ricotta salata, it is a firm cheese with a milky, salty flavor. Do not substitute fresh ricotta; a mild feta is a more appropriate substitute.
Don’t forget to reserve about ½ cup of the pasta cooking water before draining. You’ll need the starchy, salted liquid to help bring together the eggplant, pasta and sauce during the final simmer.
½ cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
2 oz. ricotta salata, shredded
Heat the oven to 475°F with a rack in the upper-middle position. Line a rimmed baking sheet with kitchen parchment.
In a large bowl, toss the eggplant with 1½ teaspoons salt and 4 tablespoons of the oil. Spread in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet and roast until browned and tender, 30 to 35 minutes, stirring once.
Meanwhile, in a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Stir in the pasta and 2 tablespoons salt; cook until the pasta is al dente. Reserve about ½ cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta.
While the eggplant roasts and the water heats, in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil until shimmering. Add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add the tomatoes and 1½ teaspoons salt, then cover and cook, occasionally shaking the pan, until the tomatoes begin to release their liquid, about 1 minute.
Stir in the vinegar, then use the back of a large spoon to crush the tomatoes. Cover, reduce to medium and cook, stirring, until the mixture breaks down into a lightly thickened sauce, 8 to 9 minutes.
Add the drained pasta, eggplant and ¼ cup of the reserved pasta water to the tomatoes. Cook over medium, stirring constantly, until the sauce begins to cling to the pasta, 2 to 3 minutes.
Taste and season with salt. Stir in half of the basil and transfer to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with the remaining basil and the ricotta salata.
This pasta dish, loosely based on a sausage and eggplant ragù from Sicily, is ideal for summer because it uses in-season tomatoes and eggplant. In addition, the pasta is cooked directly in the sauce so there’s no need to heat up the kitchen with another large pot of boiling water. And it was hot as blazes the night we made this for dinner.
Hot Italian sausage adds a little spiciness, but I know many of my peeps out there in foodland can’t tolerate much “heat” so go ahead and use sweet sausage if that’s your preference. However, to be frank, it was just mildly spicy even with the hot version. In fact, we doubled the amount of meat to almost a pound (8 ounces seemed rather paltry). No need for us to remove casings because we bought it in bulk, which is a time-saver if your local grocery store sells it that way.
Don’t stir the tomatoes more than just once or twice after adding them to the pot. Uncovering to stir releases heat and slows the rate at which the tomatoes burst and release their juices. However, do make sure to stir regularly after the pasta is added to prevent the starchy noodles from sticking to the pot.
The sauce came out nice and creamy, and with the extra meat—OK, and a few more tomatoes—there was definitely plenty of leftovers.
Cavatappi with Italian Sausage, Tomatoes and Eggplant
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to serve
2 Pints cherry or grape tomatoes
1 Small red onion, finely chopped
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
8 Oz. hot Italian sausage, casings removed
1 Qt. water
1 Lb. eggplant, peeled and cut into ¾-inch cubes
1 Lb. cavatappi pasta; or campanelle or gemelli
¾ Tsp. grated nutmeg
1 Cup lightly packed fresh basil, torn if large
Finely grated parmesan or pecorino romano, to serve
In a large pot over medium-high, combine the oil, tomatoes, onion and 1½ teaspoons salt. Cover and cook, stirring only once or twice, until the tomatoes begin to burst, 5 to 7 minutes.
Add the sausage and cook, uncovered and using a wooden spoon to break up the meat and tomatoes, until the sausage is no longer pink, 2 to 3 minutes.
Stir in the eggplant. Add 1 quart water and bring to a boil. Stir in the cavatappi (or other pasta), nutmeg and ½ teaspoon pepper. Cover, reduce to medium and cook, stirring occasionally and maintaining a vigorous simmer, until the pasta is al dente, 10 to 12 minutes.
Taste and season with salt and pepper, then stir in the basil.
Serve drizzled with additional oil and sprinkled with cheese.