Amongst all we have published so far in our Holiday Recipes marathon, Italian flavors and influence has been lacking.
Involtini, derived from a word meaning “to wrap or bundle,” are preparations in which meat, fish, or vegetables are wrapped around a filling that often includes bread crumbs. Depending on the recipe, the rolls are served cold or baked with sauce as we do here. In southern Italy, religious tradition regarding the use of old bread advises one to waste none - a welcome respect for a loaf labored over.
Serves 4 to 6
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
One 3-ounce can tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
One 16-ounce can whole tomatoes
Red wine vinegar
Bread crumbs made from 4 slices day-old country bread, whole wheat bread, or semolina bread (recipe follows)
2 cups whole milk ricotta
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 or 3 medium globe eggplants
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup finely grated Asiago cheese
To make the tomato sauce, heat a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and sauté until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and the tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until the paste turns a deep rusty red, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and the red pepper flakes and cook for 2 minutes. Add the whole tomatoes, raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, using a wooden spoon to mash the tomatoes into chunks. Season with vinegar and salt.
Meanwhile, to make the stuffing, in a bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, ricotta, lemon zest and juice, thyme, and salt.
Trim the stem end of each eggplant. Using a mandoline, cut the eggplant lengthwise into slices 1/4 inch thick. You should have 12 slices. Sprinkle the slices on both sides with salt, layer them in a colander, and let stand for 1 hour. Press the moisture from the eggplant and blot them dry with a kitchen towel. Pour olive oil to a depth of 1 inch in a deep, heavy saucepan or large skillet and heat to 360°F on a deep-frying thermometer. Place 3 or 4 of the eggplant slices in the hot oil and cook until the slices take on some color, 3 to 4 minutes. Using tongs, remove the slices and put in a colander to drain. Repeat with the remaining slices.
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Pour the tomato sauce into a medium-sized baking dish. Place a spoonful of filling at the one end of each eggplant slice. Roll the slice around the filling and place it seam-side down in the dish on top of the tomato sauce. Spoon a generous tablespoon of cream over each roll to moisten it. Bake until the edges of sauce around the sides of the dish are dark and the rolls are nicely caramelized, 20 to 25 minutes.
Garnish with the Asiago cheese before serving.