Guest post by Dena Norton What’s the first recipe that comes to mind when you hear the word “eggplant”?
Eggplant Parmesan, right?
And what’s the second?
Most of us draw a blank on that one.
Well, today I hope to change that. Eggplants hit peak season in the summer and early fall, so now is the perfect time to grab a couple on your next trip to the store or farmer’s market and try something new! I’m a huge fan of Eggplant Parmesan, but this Eggplant Cannelloni rivals that classic favorite. It all started when my husband and I snuck away to a little Italian bistro for a rare date night not long ago, and I unsuspectingly ordered something similar. Between the eggplant, two types of cheese, and a creamy marinara, I knew from just reading the menu description that I’d like it. But, let me tell you, I didn’t just like it – I loved it! I was mmm-ing and ohh-ing my way through every last bite…kind of embarrassing, really. As we exited the restaurant, I announced to my husband, “I’m SO trying that at home!” So I did…and we loved it…and today I’m sharing it with you! It’s such fun to discover new ways to enjoy the foods God so wonderfully created and gave to us, isn’t it? This dish is far from “light” with the cheeses and sausage, but it’s flavors are so rich that just two small cannelloni (or one large one if using large eggplants) will satisfy. Pair it with a large salad and you’re golden. Before we get to the recipe, here’s a quick look at the nutritional value of eggplants, and a few tips on selecting and preparing this lesser-used vegetable:
Eggplants are a great source of fiber and vitamin B1, but also contain smaller amounts of a broad range of other nutrients such as B6, folate, vitamin K and potassium. (Source)
Phytonutrients, especially in the skin, have antioxidant activity as well as brain-protective effects. (Source) Preliminary studies indicate possible anti-cancer effects as well! (Source) Eggplants are members of the nightshade family, along with tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and goji berries. Some individuals are sensitive to nightshades and may experience increased pain and inflammation when they consume them. (Source)
Selection and Preparation
Choose those with a firm, smooth skin and green stem and cap. Larger eggplants typically have a more bitter flavor; slicing, sprinkling with salt, and allowing to rest for a half-hour prior to preparation can help offset any bitterness. Store whole eggplant in the crisper without too much crowding since their sensitive skin bruises easily.
Now, for the recipe…
These Eggplant Cannelloni do require a few steps, but they’re completely worth it. I promise. They could also easily be made vegetarian by simply omitting the Italian sausage – and, in fact, the version I was served at the restaurant was meatless and was wonderful. They’re also grain-free, which makes lots of people happy these days.
- 3 to 4 small eggplants (or 1 to 2 large*), sliced lengthwise into ¼" thick slices (discard the 2 outermost slices)
- 3 Tbsp. butter, melted
- Sea salt
- 6 oz. Italian sausage, casings removed (omit for Vegetarian option)
- 12 oz. homemade or jarred marinara sauce
- 1½ tsp. each: fresh thyme and oregano (or ½ tsp dried)
- 4 large leaves fresh basil, chopped (or 1 Tbsp. dried)
- 4 oz. whole milk mozzarella cheese, grated or chopped into small pieces
- 6 oz. whole milk ricotta cheese
- 6 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese, divided
- Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- 2 to 4 Tbsp. heavy cream, to taste
- Italian Parsley for garnish (optional)
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Brush both sides of each eggplant slice with melted butter, then sprinkle sea salt evenly over all.
- Bake in a single layer on 2 parchment-lined pans for 8 to 10 minutes. Turn each slice over and return to oven for another 6 to 8 minutes, or until soft but still able to hold together when lifted from the pan.
- After removing cooked eggplant from the oven, turn the heat down to 350 degrees.
- While eggplant slices are baking, brown the sausage over medium high heat. Once browned, turn heat to low and add marinara, thyme, oregano, and basil, stirring until heated through. Add cream, give it all a good stir, and remove from the heat until ready to assemble cannelloni.
- In a mixing bowl, mix together the mozzarella, ricotta, and 2 Tbsp. of Parmesan.
- Season with sea salt and black pepper to taste.
- Ladle enough creamy marinara sauce into a small casserole dish (or 4 personal size stone bakers) to cover the bottom. (The remainder will be poured over the rolled cannelloni.)
- To assemble the cannelloni, place a large spoonful of cheese mixture at one end of an eggplant slice, then roll end to end. Place each rolled cannelloni in the casserole dish or baker.
- Once all eggplant slices are rolled and in the dish, ladle the remaining sauce evenly over the top of all. Sprinkle with remaining 4 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese.
- Bake uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes, or until sauce begins to bubble.
- Garnish with a sprig of Italian parsley and serve immediately.