Roll up an impressive eggplant dish

Piles of eggplants will greet visitors at local farmers’ markets in the next month.

Deep purple, round, elongated, striped or white, whatever the color, these hard-working vegetables can produce so many dishes that even card-carrying carnivores could embrace them. Well, not literally. Farmers tend to take a dim view of  vegetable huggers. Or thumpers, pinchers, squeezers or sniffers. A well-known local fruit stand even has Mr. Whipple-inspired signs plastered around their produce that basically say “No one wants to buy fruit with which you have established a relationship and then abandoned.”

But I’m getting off the subject.

Eggplants are members of the same family as tomatoes and sweet peppers, but they have fewer vitamins in them. What this vegetable does have going for it is its high fiber content and purple color, which provides a big dose of antioxident flavenoids. So using pureed eggplant for the Middle Eastern appetizer baba ganouj is great idea, but how about usng it in a classic American-Italian dish?

We’re not talking about eggplant parmesan, but another American version of Italian food, rollatinis. Eggplant slices are wrapped around a cheesy filling, covered with tomato sauce and baked. Trust us, no one is going to miss the pasta or the meat in this dish.

Rollatinis take some prep work and time to assemble, so you might want to wait for a weekend night to impress people. You can make the filling hours before baking the eggplant.  Just cover the filling and refrigerate it. But remove it from the fridge at least an hour before assembling the rollatinis.

Make it a bit easier on yourself and use a prepared spaghetti sauce.

Eggplant Rollatini

Serves four-six

2 large eggplants

1 egg, beaten

1 1/2 cups fine bread crumbs

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 sweet onion, diced

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

4 cloves garlic, peeled and diced

3 cups baby spinach

1 tsp. fresh lemon zest

1/3 cup walnut pieces, toasted

1/4 cup fresh herbs, you can use a mix of basil, thyme, chives, parsely or oregano

1/4 cup ricotta cheese

1 egg

1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

4 oz. goat cheese

Spaghetti sauce

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Slice the unpeeled eggplants, lengthwise, into thin slices. Coat two cookie sheets with cooking spray. Dip the eggplant slices in the beaten egg, then coat in breadcrumbs. Place on pans and bake for 20 minutes, turning once, until eggplant has softened and crumbs have browned. Cool on pans.

While eggplant bakes, heat half of the olive oil in large skillet over low heat. Add onions, salt and pepper and saute about five minutes. Add half the garlic and saute 3 minutes longer. Transfer mixture to a large bowl.

In the same pan, turn heat to medium, add remaining olive oil, spinach and remaining garlic. Saute about  5 minutes, or until spinach wilts completely. Place spinach in a colander to drain and cool. When spinach is cool, use hands to squeeze out excess moisture. Add spinach to onion mixture in bowl. Add lemon zest, walnuts and herbs.

In another bowl, stir together the ricotta, egg and half the Parmesan. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir ricotta mixture into spinach mixture. Crumble in the goat cheese.

Place a large dollop of filling on each eggplant slice. Beginning with short end, roll the eggplant around the filling and place rollatinis in a large casserole dish that has been coated with cooking spray. Cover with tomato sauce, sprinkle with remaining Parmesan and bake for 30 minutes.

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