Birthday Eggplant (Simple Sicilian Eggplant Involtini)

BirthdayEggplantServed_webYesterday was Emily’s birthday. No, not mine, the other Emily. (But mine is coming up in June, and it’s a big one, so if you wanna send me something…)

A dinner party was held in her honor, complete with Moscow mules, darling World Market-inspired favors and an astrologer to get all of our hopes up about our futures. It was incredibly fun and full of such warm, inviting and clever friends. She’s a lucky one.

As part of Em’s soiree, guests were each asked to potluck a dish that we’d later explain with a toast to Emily. As in, the dish had to be something significant, special, noteworthy — or at least delicious enough to warrant the whole toast thing void. There were cocktails. A verdant salad with all sorts of fun toppings. Decadent spicy shrimp linguine and Momofuku’s famous Crack Pie. (Aptly named, it turns out. This was my first taste, and I’m well beyond the gateway at this point. Fiending is a completely accurate term for what’s happening over here.)

For our contribution, Chris and I brought a few trays of crowd-pleasing puff pastry bites — and this, a dish created just for Miss Em on her special day.

I give you…Birthday Eggplant.

Emily makes one of the best eggplant parm dishes I’ve had. It’s decadent, gooey, browned and bubbling with substantial slabs of perfectly fried eggplant that stand up to the bevy of drippy sauce and cheese. It’s eggplant parm that actually tastes like eggplant. Of course, it also tastes of love and patience, because Em painstakingly fries batch after glorious batch of hand-breaded eggplant to ensure each medallion is crisp yet toothsome. No soggy nightshades here. It’s a special occasion supper to be sure. A gift to all that enjoy it.

So this is my gift to Em. An eggplant recipe that delivers a satisfying punch of eggplant taste and texture but is light and simple enough to make it accessible Monday-Friday. Sicilian staples — ricotta cheese, orange zest, chewy sundried tomatoes and toasted nuts — ensure this dish is still full of flavor. And by quickly grilling the eggplant without a lot of fat, it retains a silky-not-soggy texture while picking up a bit of savory char.




Is it Em’s eggplant parm? Nope. But it’s a close second. I mean, I don’t want to oversell it, but it turned out pretty dang good. I made one small tray (as a side dish) for the party and definitely should have made a second. Honestly, this may have been the first time in my life that I actually overestimated how many folks a recipe would feed, but on the bright side, it must have been totes scrummy, right?

(Check it: if you’re thinking a tray of 12 rolls seems like more than enough, you can also make minis to refrigerate or freeze and bake one-off at your leisure. I cooked that little guy below in a toaster oven and it kind of rocked my world. So don’t look at me like, there’s no way in heck I’m going to eat eggplant for 11 days in a row, because as long as you have ramekins, you don’t have to.)


Anyhooo, hope your birthday was an absolute blast, Em.
Put a bow on it.


Simple Sicilian Eggplant Involtini
By Emily Stoffel
Cook time: 45 mins | Serves: 4 as an entree or 6 as a side


  • 12 oz prepared tomato sauce, homemade or storebought (I used a Vodka version)
  • 2 eggplant, sliced into 1/4″ slabs (about 12 slices)
  • 3 zuchinni, thinly sliced lengthwise (about 12 slices)
  • olive oil
  • sea salt


  • 15 oz whole milk ricotta
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup pecorino romano, finely grated
  • 2 T capers, drained
  • 2 T sundried tomatoes packed in oil, chopped
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp hot paprika
  • zest of one orange


  • 1/2 cup panko
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup pecorino romano, finely grated
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped flet leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
  • olive oil


Preheat oven to 375. Pour tomato sauce into the bottom of a medium baking dish or pie plate.

Brush one side of each slab of eggplant with a light layer of olive oil and lightly salt. Grill in batches (either in a hot grill pan or outdoor grill) for 30-60 seconds per side or until well-marked. If you’ve got a bacon press (it’s a pig!), panini press or small, heavy skillet to use as a weight, now is the time to use it.

Repeat with zucchini, grilling 1-2 minutes/side before turning. Set veggies aside.

Meanwhile, combine all filling ingredients in a medium bowl. Combine all topping ingredients except olive oil in a second bowl.

Lay one piece of zucchini on a cutting board or work surface. Top with one piece of eggplant. Add heaping spoonful of filling to one end of eggplant and roll toward other end to make an involtini. (Make sure the outer zucchini layer gets rolled up, too.) Arrange in baking dish on tomato sauce seam-side down. Repeat with remaining eggplant/zucchini/filling.

Sprinkle panko topping mixture generously over involtini. Drizzle liberally with olive oil. Bake, uncovered, for 25-30 minutes or until topping is browned and sauce is bubbly. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving with additional parsley for garnish.

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4 Comments on “Birthday Eggplant (Simple Sicilian Eggplant Involtini)”

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