Baked Eggplant Rollatini Is A Fresh Spin On The Traditional Fried Version

Few meals hit the right comfort-food notes like a casserole. Whether it's because they're built to share, or tend to be topped with a layer of gooey cheese, these one-pan meals are an ideal dinner candidate. And though cheesy, they don't have to be hearty — light vegetable-forward flavors can be the star.

For an Italian-inspired spin on the casserole, turn to the baked eggplant rollatini — a modification of fried rolled eggplants, which derives from a veal dish, this unique recipe will quickly become a weeknight go-to. In addition to carefully prepped rolled eggplant slices, it's really all about the cheese, so you won't regret splurging on a fancy DOP ricotta or parmesan. And don't forget a handful of bright herbs to really make the rollatini pop.

Sopped up with fresh bread or pasta, this take on rollatini showcases a vegetarian side of Italian-American cooking. So get out some eggplant, get slicing, and let's dive into what this dish is all about.

History of baked eggplant rollatini

Like many other Italian-inspired classics enjoyed stateside, eggplant rollatini is a distinctly American creation. It was created as a more affordable alternative to veal rollatini, a dish popular in Rome. Since first-generation Italian-American immigrants couldn't afford veal, they replaced it with cheaper, more easily found eggplant. The "roll"  in the name, which references how the eggplant is bundled, is derived from English etymology, too. In Italy, the dish is called involtini, referring to its small-bite nature.

Classic eggplant rollatini is fried, containing a cheese interior, and doused in an aromatic tomato-based sauce. To eliminate oil splatter and craft a less labor-intensive rendition, the baked eggplant rollatini came about in recent years. It's similar to a range of other eggplant casserole Italian-American dishes, like the eggplant parmesan. However, this rendition relies upon fresh ingredients and a simple preparation. Here's how this delicious eggplant recipe comes together.

How baked eggplant rollatini is made

This vegetarian main course comes together with little fuss, but there are a few crucial moments during preparation. Most importantly, it's necessary the eggplant is vigorously salted after it's sliced and left to dehydrate for ten minutes. This helps pull a fair bit of moisture out of the eggplant, ensuring good browning during cooking. After patting down, bake the eggplant for ten minutes to start the roasting process.

Meanwhile, assemble the filling. Combine an egg with ricotta, parmesan, garlic, and basil, all seasoned with salt and pepper. Spoon onto the baked eggplant slices, and roll up the veggie into a bundle. Place onto a baking container with marinara sauce, which can be store-bought, but tastier when homemade. Top the eggplant rolls with more marinara and garnish with cheese. Bake for forty minutes under aluminum foil, uncovering for the last ten minutes to give the cheese some crust and color.

Of course, it's possible to embellish the recipe with ingredient deviations. Experiment with different cheeses –like goat, for example — and add herbs like oregano and parsley into the mix. Once nailing down the eggplant's water levels, the sky's the limit for variations.

How to serve baked eggplant rollatini

Although baked eggplant rollatini can function as a light meal, it meshes beautifully alongside other dishes. For an easy weeknight dinner, simply boil some pasta, and mix in with the eggplant. Especially shorter-sized noodles like shells, rigatoni or cavatappi, will soak in the rollatini's flavor.

For more vegetarian options, combine the baked eggplant with a verdant salad. Use some of the ricotta and herbs in a summer squash salad, or add a sweet note with an arugula and strawberry accompaniment. For an added crisp to the meal, fry up some arancini, too. Is there really ever too much cheese? No matter the sides, make sure to buy a crispy loaf of bread to sop up all the delicious flavors. Although out of line with an Italian theme, a baguette is the perfect candidate for the job. And, of course, a glass of tasty Italian red wine will take this rollatini dinner to the next level.