Recently, during one of my internet recipe forays, I came across a link for a wonderful, lower fat eggplant rollatini. Since I am always on the lookout for healthier versions of recipes I love, I decided to try it regardless of the fact that I am the only one in the house who likes eggplant. Despite the chorus of moans and groans at the very mention of the empurpled vegetable, I was determined that it would indeed be on the menu that night! Let’s face it, every once in a while we family cooks need to stand our ground and make something for ourselves; damn the complaints of the ravenous masses! Whenever I cook something that whips the Thompson tastebuds into an unhappy frenzy, I am reminded of my mother who, as a result of my dad’s extreme distaste for poultry, has stopped cooking chicken at home because, as Dad claims, even the smell is “gross”. I know that such an aversion may seem weird. Chicken is so innocuous and bland; it hardly warrants such rabid detestation. After all, chicken is the go-to for all types of restaurants for those patrons who might not care for the more exotic or adventurous fare offered on the menu.
As a result, poor Mom has been reduced to satisfying her craving with the occasional drive through chicken sandwich at Wendy’s. Very sad! However, for the sake of self-preservation, I will deviate from this line of discussion immediately lest someone mention my own irrational distaste for asparagus. In fact, the intensity of my dislike is such that once at happy hour with friends, a well-intentioned bartender used asparagus in a Bloody Mary instead of celery, and I’m embarrassed to admit how grateful I was when my friend, who shared my distaste, requested a stalk of celery instead! Anyway, back to the matter at hand. The family cook must draw the line somewhere; don’t you agree? Therefore, I was determined that we were having eggplant that night. I refused to be denied!
Resolutely, I chopped a couple of cloves of garlic. As it sautéed and the wonderful aroma began to pervade the kitchen, I poured in a healthy splash of wine (1/2 a cup to a cup) from the bottle of cabernet my husband happened to have recently opened. Sssshhhhh, he is always amazed when the bottle is so quickly emptied! After a few minutes of vigorous simmering, I added two twenty-eight ounce cans of Muir Glen organic diced tomatoes, a bay leaf, a few red pepper flakes and some salt and pepper. My friend Nat, connoisseur of Italian cuisine, is convinced that the secret to great sauce is in the tomatoes, and I have to say I agree with him. Lousy tomatoes equal lousy sauce. I love fresh basil, so into the pot it went, melding its unique aroma to that of the tomatoes, garlic, and wine. On yet another side note, my daughter, at the age of five, was so in love with the scent of basil that she would make what she referred to as “perfume” from crushed basil leaves and water. “I’m going to make some perfume, Mama!” she would call out and off she would go to assault the basil plant! 🙂
There are hundreds of recipes online that call for different cuts of tomatoes and ingredients for marinara, and of course, lots of opinions regarding what brand of tomato makes the best sauce. I actually prefer chunky sauce in dishes like this and find that it works well with a multitude of pasta dishes. In fact, marinara is meant to be chunky and fairly easy to make whereas tomato sauce, as one of the five mother sauces, has a smoother texture and can be quite a complicated process, and time consuming to make. Marinara shouldn’t take long to prepare and really only needs to be cooked 30-60 minutes in order to provide a thicker consistency and more intense flavor.
While the sauce was simmering, I got out my mandolin and shaved thin, precise slices of eggplant. I salted it, laid it on paper towels and popped it into the refrigerator. Next, I mixed the filling for the eggplant: ricotta cheese, egg, fresh spinach, and salt and pepper.
Now, here is where my gigantic brain fart occurred.
I must have had way too much pinot gris that night ‘cuz why I thought such thin pieces of eggplant needed to be pre-baked was beyond me. Needless to say, I burned them and just in case you want to file away this piece of information for future reference, burned eggplant smells really bad! Given my daughter’s and my husband’s dislike of eggplant, there was much rejoicing in the Thompson household when the eggplant went up in smoke. Even more merriment ensued when it was discovered that there was no remaining eggplant for the eggplant rollatini.
S – – – ! It was late. I was tired. I had already spent a portion of the afternoon making snowball cookies for a fundraiser at work, and I had about twenty dollars’ worth of ingredients, scathed and unscathed sitting on my kitchen counter. Another glass of pinot gris brought me to my senses as effectively, though far more pleasantly than smelling salts. I reached for a box of farfalle, poured half the contents into my pasta pot, and packed up my cookies for delivery while it was cooking.
When the farfalle had cooked to just shy of al dente consistency. I layered it, along with the spinach, ricotta mix and sauce into a baking dish. After grating about a ton (truly) of mozzarella and parmesan over the top, I shoved the whole mess, sans eggplant, into the oven. Twenty minutes later, it was ready, hot, bubbling and fragrant.
Dinner was saved; the starving rabble cheered and declared it the best eggplant rollatini they had ever tasted. Wait . . . what? Oh, I get it . . . . Very funny! 🙂
P.S. In case you missed the link posted above, this recipe is adapted from Gina Homolka’s Best Skinny Eggplant Rollatini with Spinach which you will find at her wonderful website Skinnytaste.com. I used a different sauce and of course, no eggplant! The Snowball Cookie recipe is the creation of Heather Baird at one of the sweetest websites on the web at Sprinkle Bakes. Check it out and you will discover what a double entendre that was! Happy cooking!