Tired of plain old ravioli or lasagna? Try an eggplant roll-up instead!
Eggplant is a vegetable that has slowly grown on me, and a dish that helped the growing process was an Italian meal I had at a B&B in Charlottesville back in May. The dish consisted of thin slices of eggplant that were wrapped around a bundle of ricotta, then served on a bed of fettucini with sun-dried tomatoes. So when I was trying to think of a way to a) make myself a nice dinner, and b) use a small eggplant I’d purchased at the Farmers Market, I decided to try and make my own version of this dish, but without the pasta and without the cheese!
This recipe has four steps and is more involved than most of what I post, but it is definitely worth the time and effort. In all this took me about two hours to prepare (and I’m a slow prepper), from the ricotta to the sauce to the eggplant to the whole kit ‘n caboodle. If you’ve got some time in the evening, definitely use it to make this dish!
The first thing I made was the tomato sauce. Using the basic idea behind my ridiculously easy tomato basil sauce, I blended together half of a fresh tomato, a slice of onion, and two crushed cloves of garlic. You’ll want to blend until the ingredients are smooth, unless you like really chunky sauce on lasagna-esque dishes. I then transferred the sauce to a small saucepan and heated it over medium, adding tomato paste, salt, and pepper to it to deepen both the flavor and the color. I let this simmer while I made my tofu ricotta, which gave it about ten minutes; but you can let it simmer longer if you like! This will yield about one cup of sauce.
I then made my tofu ricotta, which was equally fast and easy. I simply blended some extra firm tofu, almond milk, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, garlic, salt, and dried oregano in a blender until the mixture was creamy and smooth. I then placed it in a bowl and let it chill in the fridge until it was ready for my roll-ups. Just a note, this ricotta is flavored heavily with garlic and oregano, so it’s really only suitable for pasta dishes and the like (as opposed to an all-purpose ricotta sub).
Now, the eggplant! I used a small eggplant that was about six inches tall and as wide around as a small jelly jar lid. You can make this with a large eggplant, but you may want to cut it in half first before cutting your eggplant strips. Since my eggplant was smaller, I simply cut off the top stem, then sliced vertically into thin, long strips, like the one pictured below.
I then placed each strip on a baking sheet and baked them for eight minutes at 425 F, a time and temperature I got from Appetite for Reduction‘s Eggplant Bacon recipe. After eight minutes I tested for “doneness” by pushing up on each strip with a spatula. If it folded over easily, I put it on a plate; if it was still firm, I flipped it over and baked for three minutes more. The goal is to bake and dehydrate the eggplant strips enough so that they can be easily rolled.
Now comes the fun part. To make my eggplant rolls, I first took a strip of eggplant and laid it flat on a plate. I then placed a dollop of tofu ricotta a little ways from one end of the strip, as pictured below. I then folded up the end with less length over the ricotta, then folded the longer end overtop to create a roll-up, sort of like rolling a sleeping bag or wrapping a present. I then placed the roll-up with the two ends down on the pan, so that the roll would stay closed while baking.
Simply repeat this until no eggplant remains (you may have some extra ricotta, which is fine), placing your roll-ups in rows in a baking dish. I then baked the rolls as-is for twenty minutes to cook the eggplant further and get the ricotta nice and hot.
I then covered my baked eggplant rolls with the tomato sauce, and also added some vegan mozzarella cheese (this is entirely optional; I just had some extra from a vegan pizza I made awhile ago) and more dried oregano (also optional but I recommend this more than the vegan cheese) on top. I baked for twenty more minutes, and then at last, it was done!
This dish is great when you’re looking for a filling Italian dish that’s not loaded with starchy noodles, and also convenient to serve since it’s already prepared as bite-size pieces (so you don’t have to slice it like a lasagna). You can either serve them alone or atop a bed of pasta. It’s got quite a few steps involved but it’s worth it in the end!
Rolled Eggplant with Tofu Ricotta and Fast Homemade Tomato Sauce (Serves 2 or more)
Fast Homemade Tomato Sauce:
½ large tomato or one medium tomato
1 1/4-inch slice yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 TB tomato paste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Blend the tomato, onion, and garlic in a blender or food processor until smooth. Pour into a small saucepan and heat on medium. Add tomato paste, salt, and pepper, and stir until combined. Once sauce begins to boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for at least ten minutes, until sauce is smooth and a deeper shade of red. Store at room temperature until ready to use. Makes approximately one cup.
½ of a 14 oz block extra firm tofu, patted dry (do not press)
1 TB lemon juice
2 TB nondairy milk
2 TB nutritional yeast
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp salt
1-2 tsp dried oregano
Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Chill until ready to use.
1 small eggplant (or a large eggplant cut in half across the middle before slicing into strips)
Cooking oil/cooking spray
Salt (to taste)
Preheat oven to 425 F and spray a baking sheet with cooking oil. Cut the eggplant into long, thin strips. Place eggplant on baking sheet and spray the tops with more oil; season with salt. Bake for eight minutes. Check the eggplant – if a piece folds easily with a spatula, then transfer it to a plate until ready to roll. Otherwise flip and bake for three minutes more.
Reduce heat to 350 F and spray a baking dish with cooking spray. Take a piece of eggplant, add a tablespoon (or so) of ricotta between the center of the strip and one end. Fold the shorter end over the ricotta, then fold the longer end overtop to create your roll. Place the eggplant roll in the baking dish with the ends down, so the roll is held shut. Repeat until no eggplant remains.
Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, then cover with all of the tomato sauce. Top with vegan cheese and/or dried oregano if desired. Bake for 20 minutes more. Serve immediately.