The Eggplant Involtini is a classic Italian dish that can be enjoyed by everyone, vegetarian or not. The world “Involtini” is an Italian word for small portions of food wrapped with some kind of filling. These dishes can be made with meat, seafood, or vegetables, and have a variety of fillings based on the dish being made. For this recipe, we will be creating an Eggplant Involtini with a homemade ricotta cheese filling, baked in a fresh tomato sauce.
Eggplant Involtini is a similar idea to veggie lasagna, with the eggplant serving as the noodle replacement. Rather than create layers of ingredients like in lasagna, Eggplant Involtini is bundled up into small rolls with a breadcrumb-and-ricotta filling baked inside. They are baked in a pool of tomato sauce, which ties in all the flavors to create a delicious, tasty dish.
While traditional Eggplant Involtini recipes call for you to fry the eggplant, we decided to roast our eggplants to add a richer flavor. Baking the eggplant helps keep it firm enough to hold the ricotta filling without falling apart. It also cuts down on the amount of oil consumed, making it a healthier alternative to frying.
Eggplant Involtini can be served as a main entrée with three to four rolls per person, or served on top of your favorite pasta. They’re also a perfect side dish to bring to a potluck or dinner party.
Eggplant Involtini Recipe Difficulty: Medium
The Eggplant Involtini may prove a bit of a challenge for a beginner. It has an above-average amount of assembly steps, and requires some unique tools such as cheesecloth and a zester. You can replace the homemade tomato sauce and ricotta cheese with store-bought variations to cut down on recipe difficulty.
Eggplant Involtini Serving Size
This recipe makes three to four servings of three to four Eggplant Involtini rolls.
Prep Time: 60 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
- Large baking sheet
- Large skillet with cover
- Medium pot
- Large kitchen knife
- Two Medium bowls
- Fine mesh strainer
- Two large eggplants, about one lb. each in weight. Look for long eggplants with a wide bottom.
- Olive oil for drizzling
- Grated parmesan cheese for topping
- 1/2 cup basil, minced
- Salt and pepper
Homemade Tomato Sauce:
- Three large tomatoes, or a 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes
- One tablespoon olive oil
- Two garlic cloves, minced
- A pinch of red pepper flakes
- Three cups whole milk
- One cup heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- One lemon
- One teaspoon minced thyme leaves
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees with the rack in the middle.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper then lightly drizzle with olive oil.
- Wash and dry all fresh produce. Peel the eggplants using a vegetable peeler. If using fresh tomatoes, peel and dice them. You will want to retain as much of the juice as possible for the sauce. Cut the lemon in half and drain the juice, straining out any seeds or pulp.
- To make fresh ricotta cheese, line your strainer with one to two layers of cheesecloth and place it over a bowl. Mix whole milk, heavy cream, and salt into a medium pot and heat on medium-high, stirring occasionally. Once the mixture comes to a boil, slowly add the lemon juice and reduce the heat to low. Stir continuously until it begins to curdle. Pour the mixture over the cheesecloth and allow it to drain for up to one hour.
- With your kitchen knife, slice off the top and bottom of the eggplants. Turn the eggplants lengthwise and then thinly slice them into eight even slices. Press the slices dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Lay the eggplant slices on the baking sheet and drizzle with oil. Place the sheet in the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until tender. Use a small spatula to flip the slices halfway through baking.
- While the eggplant is roasting, heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet for the tomato sauce. Add the tomatoes, garlic, and red pepper flakes and allow them to simmer until lightly browned. Bring the mixture to a full boil before covering the skillet and reducing the heat to low for about 15 minutes.
- In a medium-sized bowl, mix together breadcrumbs, ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup of grated cheese, and thyme. Add lemon juice to the ricotta mixture and set aside.
- Once the eggplant slices have finished roasting, pull the sheet from the oven. Set aside to cool and turn the oven up to 425 degrees. Evenly spread the tomato sauce in a large baking dish.
- Spread the ricotta filling evenly across the wide ends of the roasted eggplants. Lightly sprinkle basil on top. Carefully roll the eggplant around the ricotta filling, placing it seam-end down in the tomato sauce. Once you’ve rolled up each slice, carefully spoon some tomato sauce across each roll. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over the rolls before baking them in the oven until they are lightly caramelized, or about 20 to 25 minutes.
- Take the rolls out of the oven and garnish with more parmesan cheese and basil. Let the dish cool for five minutes before serving.
- Fry the Eggplant. Coat the eggplant slices with egg and cover them with breadcrumbs. Fry the eggplant slices in a large skillet over medium-high heat until golden-brown on each side. Pat the slices dry using paper towels before adding ricotta filling.
- Non-Vegetarian Option. Add some Italian sausage or prosciutto on top of your ricotta cheese filling before rolling up the eggplant. This recipe is also great when served next to veal, beef, chicken, or even seafood.
- Vegan Option. Eggplant Involtini can easily be turned into a vegan option by replacing a few ingredients. Vegan ricotta can be made with raw cashews or almond milk, but can also be store-bought. Replace the parmesan cheese with a mixture of cashews, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, and salt.
- Flavorful Ricotta. Add 1/3 cup of basil pesto to the ricotta cheese for a richer filling.
- Extra Cheese. Sprinkle two cups of shredded mozzarella cheese over the top of your assembled Eggplant Involtini rolls for an extra cheesy dish. You can also replace the ricotta cheese with mascarpone cheese for a thicker filling.
- Sauce Variations. Mix one teaspoon of balsamic vinegar into the tomato sauce to add more depth to its flavor. You can also add other vegetables into the sauce, such as onions or mushrooms. For those who want to add meat, you can cut some small pieces of cooked Italian sausage to serve with the sauce. You can also add heavy cream to make a smoother, velvety sauce.
The Eggplant Involtini is a very sauce-heavy dish, so it’s best to serve it with a side that can help soak up all of the flavors. Garlic bread is a classic side for sauce-heavy foods, and can be bought at the store or easily made at home. To make homemade garlic bread, brush a mixture of butter, garlic powder and parsley on slices of Italian bread. Bake the slices at 350 degrees for 10 minutes and then sprinkle mozzarella cheese on the top. After another five minutes in the oven, take the garlic bread out and serve with the Eggplant Involtini on top.
We also suggest serving the dish on a bed of pasta. Spaghetti is the most popular variety of pasta served with Eggplant Involtini, as it helps incorporate all the flavor elements and easily soaks up the sauce. If you are looking to serve your Eggplant Involtini over spaghetti, bring four to six quarts of water to a boil, add salt, and measure out two ounces of uncooked spaghetti per serving. Once the pasta is cooked, it should yield about an ounce of cooked pasta per serving, the perfect amount to be topped with your Eggplant Involtini.
The Eggplant Involtini can also be served aside a Caesar salad for a healthier meal. The rich tomato sauce mixes well with the creamy Caesar dressing, and the romaine lettuce gives the dish a fresh crunch. It also makes for a great vegetarian option, though it should be noted that Caesar dressing is often made with both anchovies and eggs. For a vegan option, try a salad with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing to bring out the flavor in the tomato sauce.
The Eggplant Involtini is a delicious dish that is sure to quickly become a favorite. Although it can seem like a complicated recipe, the versatile nature of the Eggplant Involtini makes it easy to serve at just about any location. It can be used as a stand-alone entrée, a side, or even as a dish to pass at a gathering. It can also be easily altered to fit any diet without losing the rich flavors that make it so appetizing.