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Mar 16, 2010
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Wine With . . . Eggplant Involtini

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas

Gastronomically speaking, involtini can be translated as “rollup.”  In Italy, thin slices of beef or veal often are rolled so as to encase some sort of stuffing.  In this vegetarian version, thinly sliced eggplant takes their place, and the stuffing is cheesy.  The eggplant can be peeled before slicing, or you can leave the skins on.  The taste isn’t particularly affected either way, but we peeled ours because -- to our taste anyway -- the strips of skin add a somewhat distracting texture.  We also made sure to salt the eggplant before cooking it.

We don’t always salt eggplant, but one good reason to do so is to flush out the abundance of water In the aubergine (as this vegetable is often called).  We know from sad experience that if you don’t disgorge the water before cooking, you can end up with slightly soupy results--tasty, to be sure, but too watery to be considered elegant.  And these stuffed eggplant parcels can make a truly elegant dish, served either as a main course or as an accompaniment to lamb or other roasted or grilled meat (in which case the wine options, of course, will be different).  Another reason to get rid of some of the excess liquid is to keep eggplant from absorbing the phenomenal amount of oil it’s capable of soaking up during cooking.  Many people say that salting also removes bitterness, but we haven’t found that most eggplants today taste notably bitter.

EGGPLANT INVOLTINI

2 eggplants

1/3 cup olive oil

1 cup ricotta cheese

½ pound fresh mozzarella cheese, diced

2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese plus ¼ cup for later use

¼ cup minced parsley

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons raisins

¼ cup pine nuts

2 tablespoons Panko or other breadcrumbs

1 egg, lightly beaten

Salt and pepper

THE SAUCE

1 28-ounce can crushed or diced tomatoes

2 cloves minced garlic

Red pepper flakes

Peel the eggplants (if desired) and cut them lengthwise in slices approximately ¼” thick.  Generously season the slices with salt, and let them sit for 20-30 minutes.  Rinse the slices and pat them dry.

Meanwhile, make the sauce by placing the tomatoes, garlic and red pepper flakes in a saucepan and simmering, uncovered, about 30 minutes.  Midway through, preheat your oven to 400° 

Brush both sides of the eggplant slices generously with olive oil and arrange them in a single layer on sided baking sheets.  Roast for 5 to 8 minutes or until soft enough to roll up.  Do not overcook them as they will tend to fall apart.  (Don’t worry if they tear a little; they will still hold the stuffing.  But if they have shredded so much that you find them impossible to roll up, simply layer the ingredients in a baking dish and call it Eggplant Lasagna.)

Reduce the oven temperature to 350°.  Thoroughly blend the next 10 ingredients together.  With the help of a spatula, carefully remove the eggplant slices from the pan when they are cool enough to handle.  Place a spoonful of the cheese mixture in the center of each slice, then roll or fold the eggplant around it.  Arrange each roll as it’s finished, seam side down, in a lightly oiled baking dish, packing them in fairly tightly.

Spoon the sauce over the eggplant rolls and sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup parmesan over it.  Drizzle a little olive oil over the top and bake for 20 or 30 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.   Remove the dish from the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes or so before serving. 

Serves four as a first course, two as a main course.

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Though certainly tasty as a side dish, eggplant involtani can be delicious all on its own.  It’s filling but not heavy, and very wine-friendly.  We found, however, that our favorite wines with it were not necessarily the ones that we expected to perform best. 

We often prefer earthy, dusty or leathery-scented red wines with tomato-sauced, Italian-inspired dishes -- Chiantis, for example, or wines from the southern Rhône.  We tried a few of these with the involtini, but none worked very well.  That’s because their forceful, non-fruit flavors made the dish seem somewhat bitter.  By contrast, wines whose principal appeal came from ripe, even sweet fruit worked quite well.  (The dish itself has sweet as well as savory flavors.)  At the same time, we found that wines with high levels of alcohol and/ or tannin interfered with the dish.  This involtini has lots of flavor but is not especially heavy, so the wine you open (especially if red) shouldn’t be too forceful.  Don’t worry, though, about acidity.  The tomato sauce can handle it just fine.

 

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

 

 

 

Domaine Chandon,California Rosé “Méthode Traditionelle” NV

 

 

 

 

 

 

  $22

 

We remain convinced the bubbly can be a great dinner wine.  The sweet character of this strawberry -scented sparkler seemed slightly distracting when we sipped the wine of its own.  That same quality, however, enabled the sparkler to mesh very nicely with the sweetness in the dish (coming from both the tomato sauce and the eggplant).  At the same time, the wine’s crisp acidity kept the match clean and harmonious.  Yum!

 

 

 

 

Hess Select, Monterey (California) Chardonnay 2008

 

 

  $12

 

A fleshy, oak-influenced Chardonnay, this wine had just enough stuffing to hold up to the tomato and cheese in our involtini.  This match showed us that white wines can work well with this dish – so long as they are fairly rich and full-bodied.

 

 

 

Nine Stones, Hilltops, New South Wales (Australia) Shiraz 2008 (Imported by Vineyard Brands)

 

 

 

 

 $13

 

This simple, fruit-filled Shiraz proved a great complement to the dish, giving plenty of vitality to the match.  It’s certainly not as complex as some renditions of Australia’s signature varietal, but then it’s also not as oaky or intense.  Well-balanced, it showed all its charms with the involtini, and so made for a pairing that demonstrated, once again, that a straightforward-tasting wine often will outperform more complex ones at the dinner table.

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Rivarey, Rioja (Spain) TempranilloCrianza” 2006

(Imported by International Wine Imports)

 

 

 

 

 

$12

 

 

This wine’s success with this particular dish came from its abundant cherry-scented fruit and echoes of sweet vanilla, two flavor elements that enhanced the seductively sweet character of the dish itself.  Much as with the Shiraz we so enjoyed, its simple character only enhanced its appeal.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

Two Angels, High Valley (California) “Divinity” 2006

 

 

 

 

 $25

 

 

A Rhône-styled blend, with over 50% Syrah and proportionally smaller amounts of Grenache, Mourvedre, and Petite Sirah, this wine paired well with the involtini because it tasted so unabashedly Californian.  By that we mean that sweet, sun-drenched fruit is its calling card, with peppery, meaty accents playing a very minor role.  In some contexts, that might not prove to be an advantage, but in this one it most definitely was.