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CANNELLONI DI MELANZANE: AN APPRECIATION OF THE UNDER APPRECIATED

I feel like eggplants get a bad rap. I feel like even the people who like them or plant them in their home garden sometimes do so simply because they feel they should. On certain restaurant menus eggplant dishes can come across as either obligatory homages to immigrant roots or oddly shaped stakes in the ground for militant veganism—thrown either in dark corners of the pasta section at the behest of Uncle Remo or deified front and center for some kind of patchouli-stank street cred. On the Italian menu, eggplant is definitely as old school as the gingham tablecloth, wicker basket Chianti and complimentary spumoni. But maybe, just maybe there’s a reason for its stubborn endurance—and maybe there’s some things slightly less “eggplant parm” to be done with it.

The eggplant really is a beautiful vegetable. A little love and time can transform it from a bitter-bland sponge into something silky, filling and unctuous. I remember a chef I used to work for throwing it out there as a lunch special with a little salsa crudo over fresh pasta and it was a thing of beauty, a thing of beauty that incidentally didn’t sell very well. At my friend’s pizzeria in Boise, it’s one of the most subtly amazing, tasty and underappreciated items on his menu.

This is my own take, a play on cannelloni crepes that combines eggplant with goat cheese—one of the most outstanding marriages of flavor and texture that I know of.  In place of the pasta I use thinly sliced, lightly sautéed eggplant. It lacks the eggplant hammer of a really nicely cooked thick piece of the stuff, but in my mind it makes up for it with (admittedly limited) cleverness. I like to serve the crepes under a quick tomato sauce with extra red pepper flake, the heat only elevating what the goat cheese brings. Enjoy it with your vegetarian buddies for a break from the obligatory grilled veggie burgers or I-can’t-believe-it’s-not dogs. Enjoy it because eggplant deserves a little extra time in the sun. Or enjoy it with a bottle of Primitivo or other Southern Italian red and then you’ll really be in business.

Cannelloni di Melanzane
1-2 large eggplants
6oz goat cheese
6oz ricotta cheese
Parmigiano Reggiano
Fresh mozzarella
Nutmeg
Salt, pepper
Olive Oil
AP Flour
Fresh basil
Quick tomato sauce with extra pepper flakes

Start your tomato sauce, letting it simmer as you attend to the crepes.

Slice your eggplant at an angle in thin slices about 1/8-1/4 inch thick–you want as much surface area as possible. At this point you can salt the slices heavily and drain them for 40 minutes or so—I’ve skipped this in the past without any ill effects.

Preheat your oven to 400.

Mix the cheeses, adding just enough mozzarella to give a little body once melted. Season with freshly grated nutmeg, salt and pepper and set aside.

Heat a good amount of oil in a skillet. Rinse the eggplant slices if you salted them. Dust each slice lightly with flour and fry in batches just enough to soften them. Drain them on wire racks or paper towels as you finish.

When all the eggplant has been sautéed off, put a generous spoonful of the cheese mixture in each slice and roll up like a crepe. Place the crepes in a casserole or lasagna pan. When all crepes have been built, pour the tomato sauce over the top. Finish with more grated Parmigiano and a few slices of the mozzarella. Bake until everything bubbles and is heated through. Garnish with fresh basil. Eat.

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10 responses to “CANNELLONI DI MELANZANE: AN APPRECIATION OF THE UNDER APPRECIATED”

  1. amyg says:

    Thank you for shining a bit of sunshine on the under-appreciated nightshade! The only thing that would make this better would be strolling to your SD house with a fine Primitivo, sharing it with you and DeeDee while we watch you prepare it.

  2. Travis Guymon says:

    This one sounds like a winner. We usually just cut eggplant into nice steaks and then throw them on the grill with a balsamic dressing Jackie whips up. Eggplant peaked my curiosity, but the goat cheese was a slam dunk … this one will probably get tried this weekend.

  3. Peter says:

    I love eggplant, and never more than when sliced thick and brushed with good olive oil, garlic, parsley, pepperoncini, and S&P and then grilled hard to just shy of black. They’re even better the next day in fat, dripping sandwiches.

    • Jake says:

      Also an outstanding use– I bet it would make a mean play on panzanella cubed and mixed with bread, tomatoes and vinegar peppers. The sandwiches sound pretty great on their own however.

  4. esteban says:

    I like a little spread called eggplant “caviar.” roast the suckers with a little garlic olive oil, and chopped garlic until it’s soft. put it in a food processor and blend it ’til smooth. finish it off with a little chopped parsley, capers, and chopped oven dried tomatoes. put it on a sandwich. f yeah.

    • Jake says:

      I think that may deserve a full fuck yeah. After posting this I’ve got at least 4-5 new ways to cook the purple beast, the caviar sounds delicious.

  5. Pam Clements says:

    Hey Jake, I did it! I smoked my own ham. It took me almost 4 weeks to order the fresh picnic but it finally came in the day after Easter. So I decided I had enough time for brining, dry curing and smoking for Mother’s day. I removed the rind and seasoned and slow baked for pork skins(yum). The brine consisted of water, salt, brown sugar, cumin seed, whole clove, szechuan pepper, ground celery, orange zest, dried garlic and fresh garlic and allspice. Brining took 8 days then I dry cured in my fridge for 2 days then smoked it with maple, apple and cherry for four hours internal temp was 150. I glazed it with honey when it came out of the smoker, cooled it down and refrigerated it for 1 day. Then I cooked like I would a ham at 325 for 30 min. a pound, let it rest for 30 min. and dove in. Kaleb and even Carlee who never eats pork loved it and Tim thought it was the best ham we’ve had so it was well worth the effort. Oh and I pored a rhubarb dry soda and put a few fresh bay leaves in the roaster. Going to try your eggplant dish tonight I’ve been buying some great eggplant lately and I’m always interested in new ways to prepare it. Thanks for all you information it was a lot of help especially the celery trick! We now have a new favorite meat to smoke, Pam’s Ham!!

    • Jake says:

      Sounds delicious. Did the celery give you some of that pink/ hammy flavor? Gotta say, I’m a little jealous I didn’t get to eat any. Say hi to the crew up there in the Northwest for me.

      • Pam Clements says:

        Yes it looked just like any bone in ham. Nice and pink but a lot more flavor and very juicy.
        I’ll say Hi and we all wish you and DeeDee all the best and a smooth delivery and a happy healthy baby!