When voluptuous, dark violet eggplants aren’t striking a zaftig pose in my kitchen, they are thrilling me with their creamy texture and slightly bitter yet malleable flavor. Here they are wrapped around herb-infused ricotta and baked in a simple tomato sauce. Though technically a side dish, involtini di melanzane also make an excellent light supper. Note: Don't skip salting the eggplant. Salt mellows the slight bitterness and pulls out the excess moisture that would make the filling watery otherwise.
1 large eggplant, about 1 pound
½ cup + 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil plus more for brushing pans
2 cloves garlic, minced
One 14.5 ounces can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, with juice
¼ cup finely chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper
½ cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Lightly brush an 8-inch square baking dish and a baking sheet with oil.
Cut off the stem end of the eggplant. Cut lengthwise into eight 1/4-inch-thick slices. Lightly sprinkle both sides of the eggplant with salt. Place the slices on a wire rack (place a dishtowel or baking sheet under it) or in a colander (place a plate under it). Let stand for about 30 minutes.
Preheat the broiler.
In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, heat 6 tablespoons of the oil. Add the garlic and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, 3 tablespoons of the basil, and 1 tablespoon of the parsley, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens slightly. Season with salt and pepper. Spread a thin layer of the sauce in the baking dish.
Wipe the eggplant slices to remove excess moisture (do not rinse the slices). Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Place on the baking sheet and broil about 4 inches from the heat until lightly browned. Turn the slices and broil until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and set aside the eggplant to cool for about 10 minutes. Decrease oven temperature to 375°F.
In a small bowl, combine the ricotta with the remaining basil, parsley, and olive oil. Spread 1 heaping tablespoon of the filling on each eggplant slice, leaving a ½-inch border. Beginning at the narrow end, roll the slice around the filling. Arrange the rolls seam side down in a single layer in the baking dish. Spoon the remaining tomato sauce over the rolls, covering them evenly. Sprinkle with the Parmesan. Bake until the filling is hot and the sauce is bubbling, about 30 minutes.