Involtini, the most requested recipe ever

People often, and bizarrely, ask me for recipes quite often. Particularly for cakes, which is silly because I very rarely bake and my cakes are more often than not disasters. The most requested recipe I have ever known is this one for Involtini. I’m fairly intolerant of vegetarians, not because I don’t respect their decision not to eat meat but because finding something exciting to do with vegetables can be utterly boring and maddening. I do find cooking without meat can sometimes feel a bit glum, obviously not if you’re a vegetarian, and nothing would make me happier than a handsome prince rocking up with a large plate of rare steak but if you are stuck in a cooking for friends who don’t eat meat/trying to cut down on eating meat/wanting to do something exciting with an aubergine bind then this is the recipe for you.

Aubergines, huh? Such a faff, all that salting and spitting. I have a confession. I have never salted an aubergine, not once. Not even considered it. Well Nigella doesn’t bother so neither do I. I once struck up a conversation with my idol, Esther Walker of Recipe Rifle, about the salting of aubergines. It’s not slightly terrifying or worrying that I printed out that communication and framed it, is it?! While we’re here, Esther has written a total howl of a book about cooking, being an exhausted mother, being married to Giles Coren and occasionally feeling a bit sad. I downloaded it from Amazon the other evening, read the whole thing in one sitting, snorted and guffawed and then wished I hadn’t finished it all in one go. Some of the stories will be familiar if you read her blog but others are new. All recipes are tested and adapted to suit real people. I really recommend spending a whole £1.99 and downloading it to your Kindle or iPhone or other technological device. The link to purchase it is here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bad-Cook-ebook/dp/B00ALKTWYY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1365757067&sr=8-1&keywords=bad+cook

Anyway, back to aubergines. I love them, can’t get enough of them. There’s something about the smoky, creamy texture that makes me really jolly. This, babaganoush and moussaka are probably my favourite uses for an aubergine but I love it in pasta sauces and with spices. Oh this is turning into an ode to aubergines. Back on track, Eleanor, so this is a great recipe for everyone, vegetarian or no and it’s so much more exciting than a vegetable lasagne or a roasted vegetable or even worse an omelette! It’s like a cannelloni but with aubergine instead of pasta, which I think is far nicer and less carby. Also the aubergine is lovely and soft and creamy and the mixture inside is really fresh and zingy so it’s all a bit of a taste explosion. I sometimes throw in pancetta if it’s for meat-consumers as it adds a lovely salty crunch and if I could have found pine nuts in the cupboard I would have toasted some and added these but it was no worse for the lack of them, just a softer texture.

I’ll apologise now for the state of the photo of the finished article, the others have all come out well but by the time I photographed it, I was in the darkest part of the kitchen, having consumed a few sherries and was leaning over my friend as she attempted to eat it. It’s not a great photo but you can imagine that with tomato sauce and mozzerella, it’s toasty and golden and looks a bit like a lasagne.

This is a recipe that I make from memory and so it may be a bit patchy in detail, I’ve tried to fill it out a bit for you. I’ve been promising to write this up for people for years so here we finally have it!

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Involtini

makes enough for about 3 with something like a salad and bread on the side

  • 2 large aubergines (look for long/thin – makes it easier to roll)
  • olive oil – now you can fry the aubergine in this but it smokes and makes a horrible mess. I use crisp’n’dry for this part because it stops everything becoming too soggy and greasy. I then use olive oil in the mixture itself.
  • handful of grated parmesan
  • half a block of feta
  • 2 large mozzarella balls
  • mint and parsley, plenty of
  • handful of breadcrumbs (I used panko because that’s what we had but any will do)
  • 2 garlic cloves and a red chilli, finely chopped
  • an egg
  • salt and pepper
  • lemon – zest and juice
  • tomato passata/tinned chopped tomatoes – use a combination so it’s not too thin and watery
  1. Slice your aubergines into long thin strips, lengthways. See the picture below, it’s quite hard to describe.
  2. In a hot pan, fry several of these strips until browned and crispy. This won’t take too long. Put to one side to cool and continue to fry the batches. If you’re piling these up to cool, it might be worth putting layers of greaseproof between them, they can get a bit sticky.
  3. When you’ve fried off the whole batch, in a large bowl, crumble the feta, 3/4 ball of mozzerella chopped and 3/4 of the parmesan. Stir in the herbs, they don’t need to be too finely chopped. You’ll want to use plenty. This needs to be gutsy herby.
  4. Stir through the garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper and the chilli. Add the breadcrumbs and add the egg. Mix this in and you’re looking to have a sticky mixture, it may need a splash of olive oil to wetten it.
  5. Lay the aubergine out lengthways, I lay it on greaseproof because it stops the kitchen becoming an almighty mess. Place a ball of the wet mixture on the aubergine and roll it up. Continue with all the pieces of aubergine and tuck into a gratin dish. You want them to be quite close to each other, nestling alongside, otherwise the contents comes out into the sauce while it’s cooking.
  6. Tip over the tomatoey mixture and layer slices of the remaining mozzarella across the top. Sprinkle with the remaining parmesan and plenty of black pepper.
  7. I then put it in the fridge to firm up before cooking in a hot oven, 180c, for about 30 minutes. You can skip the fridge part but a) it’s so easy to make this in advance and save your guests from the mess (it’s not a terribly tidy dish) and b) it stops the insides gooping about into the tomato. (that’s a technical term)

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