Recipe: Eggplant Rollatini with Ricotta, Mortadella, and Arugula
Southern Italians love to stuff and roll food. You’d almost think they didn’t have enough fun in their lives and were desperate for entertainment. Making food rolls is fun, and it’s a big feature in cucina povera, since it stretches a meal so you can feed a group. To me, little rolls can be prettier than just plain stuffed offerings, too. Sicily has lots of rolled and stuffed dishes in its fine repertoire, and they usually go by the name involtini. The rollee can be skinny slices of swordfish or tuna, gutted sardines, tough cuts of pork or lamb that need long simmering to become edible, or sheets of zucchini or sweet peppers or, in this case, eggplant. I’ve even made rolls using butternut squash (gotta be careful not to overcook them or they’ll turn into mush; maybe good for a pasta sauce in that case, though).
Rollatini is the usual Neapolitan term for the roll-and-stuff, and eggplant rollatini was the queen of the New York pizza parlor takeout menu when I was a kid, usually filled with ricotta and smothered in red sauce. I did love that dish, but here I’ve done it my way. It’s much lighter, with its uncooked tomato sauce and with baby arugula used more as an herb than as a salad green, giving the completed baked dish a spicy end-of-summer feel. For a completely vegetarian version, just leave out the mortadella. For a stronger, meaty taste, replace the mortadella with a small dice of a soft sopressata.
Eggplant Rollatini with Ricotta, Mortadella, and Arugula
(Serves 4 as a main course)
For the sauce:
2 large, ripe summer tomatoes, skinned, cut into small dice, and drained for about ½ hour
1 fresh summer garlic clove, very thinly sliced
Extra-virgin olive oil
A few small sprigs of marjoram, the leaves lightly chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
2 medium eggplants (long and thin are better than round ones for this), partially peeled and cut lengthwise into approximately ½-inch-thick slices
For the filling:
1 packed cup baby arugula, well stemmed
1½ cups whole milk ricotta
¼ pound mortadella, cut into very small cubes
1 fresh small summer garlic clove, minced
¾ cup grana Padano cheese
About 10 scrapings of nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Place all the ingredients for the sauce in a bowl, and give them a stir. Add about ¼ cup olive oil. Let sit at room temperature to develop flavor
Brush the eggplant slices on both sides with olive oil, and season them with salt and black pepper. Place them on a sheet pan, and roast them until tender and lightly browned, about 15 to 20 minutes. No need to turn them.
To make the filling, chop about ¾ cup of the arugula, and place it in a large bowl. Add the ricotta, mortadella, garlic, egg, ½ cup of the grana Padano, the nutmeg, salt, and black pepper, and mix well.
Set out a baking dish large enough to hold all the rolls loosely. Coat it with a little olive oil.
When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, lay the slices, browner side down, on a work surface. Spoon about a tablespoon of the ricotta mixture onto each slice, and roll them up. Lay the rolls, seam side down, in the baking dish. Pour on the tomato sauce so it falls mostly between the rolls. Scatter on the remaining grana Padano, and bake until bubbly and lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Garnish with the remaining arugula leaves, and serve hot or warm.