Since I can remember, food memories have defined my childhood and family gatherings. My grandfather on my mom’s side, Grandpa Joe, was the oldest of 10 children, and when he retired, he made homemade Italian bread out of a “Quick Mart” in Alloy, WV. I am pretty sure my first “solid foods” included my Grandpa Joe putting fingers full of red spaghetti sauce in my toddler mouth.
My dad’s dad, Dedo as we called him, also had a knack for comfort food, but his included sauerkraut and pickles. I can see my mom cringing as she reads this, but we would have picnics with Dedo, which usually included salami and cheese cracker sandwiches and Sprite. Considering Paula was a vegetarian at this time, I am sure there were discussions of snacks for us during our visits to Dedo’s place on Fort Hill in Charleston, WV.
Honestly, most of my strongest memories involve food and family. For example, Christmas Eve dinner, post mass, at the Smith’s house, featuring shrimp cocktail, my Aunt Sally’s shortbread, Uncle Reg’s “potatoes La La,” my Dad’s ham and a gingerbread house from Dutchess Bakery, which my cousins would promptly proceed to smash with bare hands to get the cookies inside. More recently, I have been enjoying my mother-in-law’s favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, in Archbald, PA, with traditional fixings, including a new side for me, rutabaga, which I had never had until my first Thanksgiving with the Siddons. Of course I can’t forget my mother in law’s beautifully designed Thanksgiving-themed cookies.
I could go on and on, because to me, family and food have always been inseparable. From a young age, my sister and I were always part of the process, helping my parents make spaghetti sauce on the weekends or fourth-generation eggnog over the holidays, with the original recipe in Dedo’s handwriting. I am pretty sure my parents have pictures of the two of us standing on chairs prepped and ready to help stir.
By the time we got to high school, we were pretty comfortable in the kitchen, but did not necessarily know how to prepare the meals we loved, from start to finish. My mom, being the middle school teacher that she is, suggested that Lemma and I make a meal a week for the family, to practice cooking full meals before we went left home for college. Of course, I picked the most complicated recipe to master first – chicken and/or eggplant parmesan.
Lemma and I started out with a lot of one-pot or one-dish recipes, giving us the confidence to move on to other more complicated dishes. Chicken or eggplant parmesan, may be more than a one-dish meal, but baking everything in one dish with sauce that had matured for a few days, if not longer in the freezer, was the epitome of comfort food to me, and still is. I would prepare a large casserole dish-worth, to be eaten for several days, or even frozen for a later time. Eggplant usually made an appearance in the summer, when it is best and in season.
Even though this dish is very comforting and filling to me, over the years I started looking for less cheesy, lighter and less caloric versions of my favorite dish. I would try using less cheese, or part-skim cheese, which I still do to this day. If I don’t have my parent’s sauce, I try to make my own or get reduced sugar, reduced acid versions. Instead of layers upon layers, I now try the rollatini eggplant version, which is just as satisfying, but less heavy. I also no longer pan fry the eggplant with breadcrumbs. I now bake the eggplant with a little salt and pepper in the oven before assembling the, completely eliminating the breading and frying. Trust me; you won’t miss the traditional version!
NOTE: I usually double the filling, depending on the side of the eggplant. If you have freezer space, make two batches and freeze one. You can use other greens, such as broccoli rabe, instead of spinach, in the filling. If you have fresh basil, add it to the top, after cooling for 10 minutes or so.
BEST SKINNY EGGPLANT ROLLATINI WITH SPINACH
TOTAL TIME: 1 hour 45 minutes
2 medium Italian eggplants, cut lengthwise into 10 (1/4-inch thick) slices (21 oz total when sliced)
kosher salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
1 1/2 cups quick marinara sauce
1 large egg
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving
8 oz frozen spinach, heated through and squeezed well
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup (4 oz) shredded part-skim mozzarella (Polly-O)
- Cut the ends off the eggplants. Cut the eggplants lengthwise, into 1/4-inch thick slices until you have a total of 10 slices about the same size. It’s easiest to do this with a mandolin. My mandolin is from OXO.
- Sprinkle the eggplant with kosher salt to help remove excess moisture and bitterness from the eggplants. Set aside for about 10 to 15 minutes. Pat dry with a towel.
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Season the eggplant with a little more salt and pepper, then arrange on two parchment-lined baking sheets. Cover tightly with foil and bake until eggplant is tender and pliable but NOT fully cooked, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Spread 1/4 cup marinara sauce on the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish.
- In a medium bowl, beat the egg then mix together with ricotta, Pecorino Romano, spinach, garlic, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper.
- Pat eggplant dry with paper towels. Dividing the ricotta-spinach mixture (about 2 generous tablespoons each) evenly and spoon onto one end of each eggplant slice, spreading to cover. Starting at the short end, roll up slices and arrange them each seam side down in the prepared dish. Top with remaining marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese and tightly cover with foil.
- Bake until the eggplant is very tender, about 60 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes before serving, topping with fresh basil, if desired.
Yield: 5 servings, Serving Size: 2 rollatini
Amount Per Serving:
Calories: 227; Total Fat: 10g; Saturated Fat: g; Cholesterol: 66mg; Sodium: 370mg; Carbohydrates: 18g; Fiber: 5g; Sugar: 0g; Protein: 17g
Post by Sarah