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.
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
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.