Over the past few weeks I’ve shown you how to be the rockstar of your next holiday party with a fried bite and a light bite, this week I’m going for indulgent with this involtini stuffed with fresh ricotta.
Rich and creamy it involves fresh ricotta rolled in a velvety eggplant wrapper, punctuated with fragrant Meyer lemons and verdant parsley. It’s definitely not for the calorie conscious, but with the festive atmosphere of the holidays and inevitable weight-loss resolutions in the new year, I’m all for a little bit of excess.
If the word ricotta conjures images of dry curds that taste like crusty plaster, you’ve probably never made your own ricotta. When freshly made, ricotta is like a rich creamy mascarpone but since there’s no fermentation involved it tastes like a concentrated version of the milk you made it from. That’s why it’s important to use rich, flavorful milk. I used a flash-pasteurized milk from a small local dairy and it took all the restraint I could muster to keep myself from eating all of it with some honey and pine nuts.
Because both the eggplant and ricotta are rather rich, I like to add some lemon zest and parsley to keep the involtini from crossing the line from creamy to cloying. On that note, I know someone is going to ask, so I’ll just address it now: roasting the eggplants in the oven won’t work. On my first few tests, I tried roasting the eggplants for various lengths of time at various temperatures, but what I ended up with was either tough and stringy or dried out and chewy.
For thin slices of eggplant like this you need a heat source that’s able to transfer heat fast enough to cook the eggplant through before it has a chance to dry out. That means steaming, boiling or frying. The first two options will keep the eggplant moist, but will also make it watery, leaving the third choice as the best option.
I happened to find some mini Japanese eggplants that were about 4.5 inches long, which is what I used to make these. If you end up using regular Japanese or Chinese eggplants just cut them in half before slicing them lengthwise.
Eggplant and Ricotta Involtini
An involtini is an Italian word for a roll-up. In this recipe, creamy ricotta is rolled velvety eggplant strips.
- 2 1/2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice (about 1 1/2 lemons)
- 1 quart whole milk
- 5 grams parsley, finely minced
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 3 medium Japanese eggplants (about 450 grams/1 pound)
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
- 4 sprigs of thyme
- Before you squeeze the lemons, zest them with a Microplane, and then cover and set the zest aside.
- Whisk the milk and lemon juice together in a medium pot.
- Gently heat the milk to 190 F (88 C) and then turn off the heat.
- Use a wire mesh spoon or ladle to encourage the rising curds to clump towards the center of the pot. Let this rest for 10-15 minutes.
- Use a perforated ladle to scoop the curds gently into a cheesecloth lined strainer and let them drain until the ricotta is about the consistency of Greek yogurt. You should end up with about 340 grams of ricotta.
- Take 170 grams of ricotta and mix it with 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest, parsley, salt and pepper. Save the rest of the ricotta for something else.
- Trim the stem off the eggplants. If you are using a full-size Japanese or Chinese eggplants, cut them in half so that each piece is about 4.5-inches long. Slice each piece lengthwise into 1/5-inch (5 mm) thick slices.
- Line a wire rack with paper towels.
- Add the olive oil to a pan along with the garlic and thyme and fry until the garlic is sizzling and fragrant.
- Fry the eggplant in batches, flipping them over once until they are tender and then transfer them to the paper towel lined rack. You'll want to remove the garlic and thyme from the oil at some point before they start to burn.
- Pat any excess oil off of the fried eggplant with paper towels.
- To make the rolls, spread a thin layer of ricotta onto each slice of eggplant and then roll it up. Skewer each roll with a toothpick and garnish with some lemon zest.
Yield: Makes 30 rolls
Marc Matsumoto is a culinary consultant and recipe repairman who shares his passion for good food through his website norecipes.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blog in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.