It is now, officially, 110% Very Cold here in Boston. This morning was a cool -11C / 12F, which might just make this the coldest place I’ve ever been. On the plus side, my local friends have finally been forced to concede that it is Very Cold – talk of ‘you haven’t seen anything yet’ seems to have come to an end. On the minus side, it is Very Cold, and ‘you haven’t seen anything yet’ has been replaced with ‘this is only the beginning, there’s months of this to come’. Hurrah.
The other plus side is that it is still lovely and sunny here – hard to believe it’s not a teeny, tiny bit warmer with the bright sun shining. We recently rearranged the furniture in our flat slightly – brought about by the need to fit twelve people around a table for dinner, we moved the dining room table and have decided not to move it back. I am now writing this sitting at the table, in the lovely bay window, in the sunshine. Funnily enough, when I imagined myself writing this blog, it was always sitting here, so it’s strange, really, that it has taken so long for it to happen.
So – in a move designed to say ‘in your face, cold Boston weather’, my post today is a version of involtini from sunny Sicily. Involtini translates as ‘little rolls’, and can be made from meat, fish, or vegetables wrapped around a filling – my version uses slices of griddled aubergine as the wrapping. The slices are rolled around a filling, coated with tomato sauce, and baked in the oven – delicious, and just as good for a cold winter’s day as in summer.
This is a wonderfully versatile dish – as I mentioned, you can use meat or fish for the wrapping (and there are some suggestions for recipes using meat or fish here, here, here and here). In addition, you can vary the filling based on whatever takes your fancy and/or whatever you happen to have in the house. One version I’ve seen includes a slice of prosciutto on top of the aubergine, which sounds wonderful – I might well have adopted this, but I was aiming for a meat-free day. When I suggested this to Noel, he informed me that he was, at that very moment, eating a carnitas burrito… Hey ho.
In terms of stuffing the rolls, the world is your oyster – though I’m not sure I would use oysters themselves… The most ‘traditional’ filling includes breadcrumbs, pine nuts and small currants – however, I’ve seen lovely-looking versions which explore all sorts of different flavours, such as Nigella’s Greek-inspired recipe. I also think the basic premise of involtini could be used to make a sort of pasta-free cannelloni – using the aubergine slices in place of pasta, and stuffing them with, say, spinach and ricotta. Something to try in the future…
My recipe is definitely Italian-inspired, though I’ve jettisoned the currants… I also included a basic tomato sauce recipe here, though you could use a jar of passata instead, if you prefer. Most importantly, experiment with the flavours for the filling until you find your perfect balance – and let me know how you get on!
Involtini di melanzane
Prep time: approx 30mins / Cook time 30mins
- 2 large aubergines
- For the tomato sauce:
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp tomato puree
- 2x 14oz/400g tins chopped tomatoes
- A splash of wine (optional)
- Salt & pepper
- For the filling:
- 100g / 3.5oz bread, crusts removed
- 1 tbsp pine nuts
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp capers, rinsed
- approx 2 tbsp grated parmesan, plus extra to top the dish
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 ball mozzarella, cut into 1cm dice
- Salt & pepper
- To serve:
- 4-5 basil leaves
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F
Begin by preparing the aubergines. Cut each aubergine into slices lengthways, around 1cm wide. Try to slice them a consistent thickness, so they will cook evenly. Heat a griddle pan or heavy based frying pan over a fairly high heat. Brush each slice of aubergine with a little olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Place in the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, until browned – you may have to do this in batches. They do not need to be completely cooked through as they will cook more in the oven later, but they do need to soft enough to roll. Once browned, remove to a plate and allow to cool slightly.
Next prepare the sauce [skip this step if you are using passata!]. Heat the oil in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and allow to saute gently, until soft but not browned – around 10 minutes. Add the tomato puree and stir to coat, followed by the tinned tomatoes, and wine (if using). Season with salt and pepper, and allow to cook and reduce for around 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until you are left with a thick sauce.
To prepare the filling for the rolls, place the crustless bread in a food processor, and process to fine breadcrumbs. Place in a large bowl. Toast the pine nuts – place a small dry frying pan over a fairly high heat, add the pine nuts and toast until brown on both sides – take care not to burn them! Add these to the breadcrumbs in the bowl, along with the capers, garlic, and parmesan. Add the beaten egg and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
Once the aubergine slices have cooled, take a slice and place a heaped teaspoon at one end of the slice. Add two pieces of mozzarella, and roll the aubergine slice up into a tight roll around the filling, and place to one side. Continue this with the remaining aubergine slices.
Spoon around a quarter of the tomato sauce into an oven-proof dish. Arrange the aubergine rolls on top of the sauce – preferably in a single layer. If you have any pieces of mozzarella left over, dot these around the rolls, saving a few for the topping. Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the aubergine rolls, and arrange any remaining pieces of mozzarella on top. Grate parmesan over the dish, and bake in the oven for around 30 minutes, until the cheese on top is browned and bubbling. Top with fresh basil leaves, and serve.