Eggplant Involtini with Pistachios and Currants

Things you should know about me: I didn’t like tomato sauces until a few years ago and cheese and I are waaay too close of friends. Like Liz Lemon close.

I’m not sure what came first last week, a craving for melty cheese or a desire to highlight some of this season’s most delicious ingredients. Suffice it to say I ended up here, with eggplant involtini, and that’s not a bad place to be.

Involtini means “little bundles” in Italian and I only recently discovered their magic. This is an excellent substitute for making a big, heavy, eggplant parmesan in the middle of summer. It’s a perfect serving (or two) without the weight of a traditional parm. Unless you’re like me and you throw tons of mozzarella over the top. Then it’s really not so different, except that it’s prettier.
I wanted to lighten up the flavor profile and had some pistachios that needed to be used up. Typically eggplant involtini calls for pine nuts but you might remember (from way back when) that I don’t use pine nuts often because of a bad case of pine mouth (and their price!). The currants were for a bit of sweetness and texture and the basil ties it all together. Also tomato, basil, eggplant…whattup summer.

Usually I’ll call out a recipe for being simple and I really want to say this is but I think many might disagree. So let me clarify – there is nothing difficult in this recipe but there are a few more steps than the label “simple” would allow.

This is where the practice of Mise en Place comes in handy.

Mise en Place is French for “putting in place” and translates to having an organized, clean, and prepped work space so that when you’re cooking you aren’t also chopping garlic, zesting lemon, and hunting for spices while trying to saute, stir, and prepare things at the same time. By lining up all your ingredients beforehand – fully measured out and prepared- you can just add things as necessary without making yourself crazy.  

Once all the components are prepared this dish comes together in no time! It’s a great dish to share (if you’re into that sort of thing) and just so perfect and seasonal.
Eggplant Involtini with Pistachios and Currants
Ingredients
  • 2 cups of tomato sauce (either store bought or make your own)
  • 1-2 medium sized eggplants
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 3 Tbsp pistachios, toasted
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 8 oz part skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp dried currants (optional, you can leave them off and the dish will still be delicious)
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • ¾ cup basil leaves, thinly sliced
  • Mozzarella to top (optional, unless you're like me and there's no such thing as "optional" cheese)
Instructions
  1. If you're making your sauce set it aside and let it cool while you prepare the involtini.
  2. Set broiler to high.
  3. Slice your eggplant lengthwise to about ¼ inch thickness. Try to get 8 -10 slices. Sprinkle with kosher salt and let sit for 10 minutes. Place on an aluminum foil-lined pan and brush olive oil on both sides. Place in broiler and cook 5 minutes on each side but make sure the eggplant doesn't burn or get too browned. After the eggplant is cooked, set aside and let cool.
  4. Place garlic in food processor and process until it's in small pieces. Add panko and toasted pistachios to the garlic and run the machine till you have coarse and well-blended crumbs. Then add the zest, ricotta, and egg and process until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the currants (if you're using), basil, and ¼ cup of Parmesan cheese. Salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Preheat oven to 375° F
  6. Take a pie or baking dish and pour 1½ cups of sauce into the bottom of the dish.
  7. Take a slice of eggplant and spread 2 heaping tablespoons of the cheese mixture over one side of the eggplant. Roll up the eggplant and place, seam side down, into the sauce. Repeat for remaining eggplant.
  8. When finished rolling up your involtini, pour the remaining sauce on top and sprinkle ¼ cup of Parmesan cheese and (if you're using) some mozzarella slices.
  9. Bake 20-30 minutes until cheese is lightly browned and sauce is bubbling. Serve hot!

Roasted Carrot Hummus

Being somewhat home-bound these last few weeks because of an ankle sprain has been little fun. It’s also (mostly) kept me off my feet in the kitchen for long stretches of time with the exception of a private birthday dinner I had the pleasure of cooking for a client ( a meal 2 months in the making). That was going to happen regardless of this sprain or not. Thankfully, it did happen and  it was delicious and successful.

So for this week I got to thinking about what I could share on the blog that wouldn’t require my standing for prolonged periods of time. For inspiration, I dove into Instagram to see what other were doing with local, seasonal produce. It was there I saw the James Beard Foundation asking for people to share images of what they do with their food scraps, to help raise awareness and conversations around food waste.

I’ve never actually made carrot hummus before but I did recently learn (from Chef Sara Jenkins) of a delicious way to use up carrot tops which is to fry them. I’m beginning to think that the “everything is better fried” adage has a lot of truth to it.
The other thing I thought about were the carrot skins and how it shouldn’t make a difference once they’re roasted and blended up as to whether the skin is on or not. Verdict: doesn’t make a shred of difference.
It felt really good to not have a mound of food bits and pieces next to me, ready for disposal. We don’t compost here in our NYC home  (maybe one day we’ll be more adventurous) and it doesn’t feel 100% when I’m preparing a big meal and half the garbage can is full of produce ends, stems, and skins. Sometimes I can salvage some of that waste for making stock but more often than not, it just gets taken out at the end of the night.

Warning about the fried carrot tops: they are ridiculously addictive. You probably wouldn’t think so, but they’re these fresh green lightweight “chips” that are impossible to stop eating. What you see in the photo is probably a quarter or what I made. And yes, I ate them all.

One of this recipe’s most winning attributes is that it’s so easy to pull together. It’s hearty in flavor but light in texture and is a delicious twist on (what’s a staple) in our home. Also, if you know me you know I like to eat with the seasons and I love a dish that can live across them all.

Roasted Carrot Hummus
Ingredients
Hummus:
  • 1 lb. carrots
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1½ cup cooked chickpeas
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • ½ cup tahina
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice (edit to taste)
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp cayenne
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt (edit to taste)
  • 3-4 Tbsp cold water
Fried Carrot Tops:
  • Reserved carrot tops, thicker stems pulled off
  • ¼ cup of vegetable oil
  • Sea salt
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F
  2. Prepare the carrots to roast by cutting them into 1-inch chunks (you can totally keep those skins on!) and reserve the carrots tops for frying later. Toss with olive oil and place on a parchment paper lined tray into the oven. Roast for 15 minutes and then turn the carrots. Roast for another 10-15 min or until carrots are fully cooked but not burned. Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. If you're using canned chickpeas make sure they're rinsed and drained. Add chickpeas and carrots to food processor and process until it's at a coarse consistency. Add the garlic, tahina, lemon juice, and spices and keep the machine running until it's well combined. Slowly drizzle in the water (while it's running) until your hummus reaches the desired consistency.
  4. Transfer the hummus to a bowl, cover, and set aside for at least a half hour. If not eating right away, wait till it cools and then leave it covered in the fridge for 2-3 days.
  5. When you're ready to serve hummus, wash and fully dry your carrot tops. Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pan to about 350°F. Only fry 1-2 pieces together at a time so they don't clump together. They will crisp up very quickly, about 30 seconds or when the bubbling dies down. Take them out and lay them on a paper towel to drain. Lightly sprinkle sea salt over the pieces as they come out of the oil.
  6. Use the fried tops to garnish the hummus along with any other seasonings and oils you'd like! I used a chili olive oil and sumac along with the carrot tops on mine. Dip away!