Over the last couple of years we have been eating more and more aubergine based dishes. Usually Italian in style, they always seems to be made with tomatoes too. When we came across this recipe in our local supermarket’s food magazine it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. A quick glance on the internet reveals a host of versions of this recipe. So many of them though included lots of different and additional ingredients: raisins, pine nuts, cream, mozzarella, feta, bread crumbs, mint ……….. the list goes on! As with so much Italian cooking, at its best, simplicity is the key. This is basically a simple dish, with a minimal number of ingredients and it has Italy written all over it!
We have made this a number of times both indoor and out and it always works well! The first time we tried it we didn’t have any ricotta cheese and substituted a soft spreadable goats cheese we had in the fridge. That was great – but I have to say on balance my favourite version is this one with ricotta. We have tried different tinned tomatoes too. Whilst it works well with any good tinned tomato, it is just in a different league when made with tinned San Marzano tomatoes.
These are the classic Italian tomato; one of the only 2 types allowed on an authentic Neapolitan Pizza. (The other is the Pomodorino del Piennolo del Vesuvio which must be grown in one of the 18 ‘comuni’ lying just about within the Vesuvius National Park). They bring a special flavour and sweetness to the sauce without having to resort to the addition of sugar. They are more expensive, but as the sauce simply comprises only tomatoes, garlic, sage leaves and butter, this is a perfect time to use them!
Preparation is simplicity itself; the BGE was set up for indirect cooking with the platesetter in place. Once the temperature stabilised at around 180-200C we needed a solid metal surface to add some colour to the aubergine slices. A plancha, skillet or in our case a stainless steel searing plate was perfect. We usually just oil it and pop the aubergines on flipping them as they take on colour. In batches, these were cooked for 10-15 minutes turning once during the cooking. They were then put to one side to cool.
We swapped out the searing plate for our Tefal Ingenio frying pan. This could have been used to brown the aubergine slices which would have made this a true one pan cook. Once the pan was hot we added the butter, garlic slices and the sage leaves and cooked for a few minutes to infuse their taste into the butter. To this was added one can of San Marzano tomatoes and as they usually come as whole tomatoes they were gently crushed and mixed with the infused butter and seasoned. If cooking on a hob or stove top I would add around one third of a can of water to the tomatoes and leave them to bubble gently for around 20 minutes until the sauce thickens and the flavour deepens. Cooking on the EGG is the same except that you only add a touch of water, just enough to rinse out the can. This is because the cooking in the EGG retains so much moisture. To cook the sauce it is worth just closing down the vents a little and dropping the temperature to around 180C.
Whilst the sauce was cooking we put the ricotta into a bowl, grated in the zest and added the juice of half a lemon and two thirds of the grated parmesan. It was seasoned to taste with just a little salt and pepper. One heaped teaspoon of the mix was placed at one end of the aubergine and this was then rolled up into a cylinder containing the mix. Once the sauce was cooked the rolled aubergines were pushed into the sauce with the seam at the bottom.
A drizzle of olive oil was poured over the involutini and some sage and torn basil leaves scattered over the top. This was followed by the remains of the lemon infused ricotta and the rest of the parmesan. The dish was then returned to the Big Green Egg for the final part of the cook. It takes around 25-30 minutes to cook this through. If the top doesn’t brown as you would like, it can be popped under a grill for a minute or so (or under the flame of a pizza oven for 30 seconds!).
Possibly the most important step however, and one easily forgotten – let it stand! The dish should be allowed to cool before serving. This is true for so many baked dishes with a tomato sauce base and very true here. Let it stand for at least 5 minutes. Use the time to make a fresh leaf salad which is the perfect accompaniment. Pour yourself a glass of something you fancy (A medium bodied red wine is perfect) – and take a sip in anticipation!
Serve at the table with the simple salad …………………..
Aubergine, Ricotta and lemon involtini
Grilled aubergines wrapped around a lemon ricotta and parmesan cheese in a rich tomato sauce
- 1 large Aubergine or 2 medium sized in 0.7cm slices length ways
- At least 2 tbs Olive oil
- 15g butter
- 12 or more sage leaves
- 1 large clove of garlic finely sliced
- 1 Tin (ideally San Marzano) tomatoes crushed
- 125g ricotta
- Half an unwaxed lemon (juice and zest)
- 40g Parmesan cheese
- Basil leaves
- Salt and pepper
- A little water
- Step 1 Set the BGE for indirect cooking with the platesetter in place stabilised at 180-200C.
- Step 2 Oil a flat cooking surface such as a plancha or skillet and put the aubergine slices on. Add extra oil and cook for 10-15 minutes turning at least once. Set aside to cool
- Step 3 Add the butter, garlic slices and half the sage leaves to a handless frying pan and cook for a few minutes to infuse their taste into the butter. Add one can of tomatoes and gently crush. Season and mix with the infused butter. Add a little extra water. Drop the temperature to around 180C. Leave to cook gently for around 20 minutes until the sauce thickens.
- Step 4 Whilst the sauce cooks add the ricotta to a bowl with the grated lemon zest and juice of half a lemon and two thirds of the grated parmesan. Season to taste. Place I heaped teaspoon of the mix at one end of the aubergine slice and roll up into a cylinder containing the cheese. Once the sauce is cooked the rolled aubergines should be pushed into the sauce with their seam at the bottom.
- Step 5 Drizzle some olive oil over the involutini. Add some more sage and some torn basil leaves over the top. Add any remaining ricotta and the rest of the parmesan.
- Step 6 Return to the Big Green Egg (or conventional oven) and cook for around 25-30 minutes. If the top doesn’t brown enough, place under a grill for a minute or so.
- Step 7 The dish should be allowed to cool for at least 5 minutes before serving – serve with a simple leaf salad