Finally, from Alexandra Stafford – who I hope you’ll follow as you’ll be so inspired – I added lemon zest to the filling and finished the dish with lemon juice. I absolutely love it here but if you don’t like lemon you can skip it. If you don’t want to make the sauce, you can use 3 cups of prepared sauce instead. I bake the eggplant in 2 cups and use the last 1 cup to serve.
To fry: Place in the oven and bake on the first side for 10 to 12 minutes, then flip each slice and roast on the second side for another 8 to 10, until browned on each side.
Grilling: Grill over high heat until dark spots appear on each side, about 8 minutes for the first side and 5 minutes for the second.
For both methods: Set the aubergines aside to cool. If your oven isn’t already preheated to 425, do so now.
While the eggplant is cooling, prepare the sauce: In an 11- to 12-inch saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat, add minced garlic, 1 teaspoon Kosher salt, and a pinch or three of red pepper flakes and dried oregano. Boil for a minute. Add tomatoes (it will splatter, be careful) and stir. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. While it’s simmering, assemble your eggplant rolls.
When the sauce is ready, taste and add more seasoning as needed. If you like it smoother, you can blend it to the desired consistency. This makes 3 cups of sauce. Before reassembling, scoop out 1 cup of sauce and set aside to serve. If the pan you used to make the sauce in is oven safe, you’re good to go. If not, place all but 1 cup of reserved sauce in a 2-quart casserole dish.
Assemble the Involtini: In a bowl, mix together ricotta, mozzarella, 1/4 cup Parmesan, lemon zest, about 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a few black peppercorns. Place about 1 tablespoon at the end of each large slice of cooked eggplant, slightly less on small ones, using all of the filling. Roll into a cigar. Place each roll, seam side down, in the prepared sauce.
Bake: Lightly brush the tops of the eggplant rolls with olive oil and bake, uncovered, until bubbly around the edges and browned on top, about 30 minutes. Squeeze lemon juice over it and sprinkle with basil leaves before serving. Serve hot, with reserved sauce and additional grated Parmesan cheese on the side, if desired.
Serve with: garlic bread maybe? Or spaghetti if you have kids or kids at heart.