You know when even your stretchy pants don’t offer enough give?
It’s time to lighten things up without sacrificing the joy that comfort food brings, and that’s where this rollatini comes in.
Break out the wine and as many chunks of Parmesan as you can find. Italia, here we come.
In this stuffed-and-rolled recipe, gently charred eggplant slices are smeared with an airy mixture of ricotta, Parmesan, herbs, and citrus, and twirled to perfection.
With the warm embrace of marinara and creamy, fresh mozzarella on top, melted until golden and bubbling, these earthy bites are sure to start a party in your mouth.
Time to come clean:
When it comes to rollatini, I’m a bit biased on the subject.
In my hometown, my family’s favorite local Italian bistro makes a version of this dish that is so divine, it’s the only thing we order. And it’s an appetizer portion, so we have to get, like, eight.
Sorry, not sorry?
I can’t help but at least attempt to mimic that magic in my own take on rollatini. Stuffed with whipped, fluffy ricotta and floating in a stream of slightly sweet, light-as-air marinara, I’m not afraid to say that each savory bite deserves a drumroll.
I highlight the creamy ricotta with salty Parmesan, floral herbs, and bright lemon zest. You’d be hard pressed to find a more delicate marriage of cheeses.
I’m a big believer in seasoning to taste, so I add the eggs last, after I’ve had time to test a quick sample for salt and pepper.
The earthy eggplant takes on some of the smoke from the grill and ends up with a tender, almost meaty texture.
The process of spreading each slice with the cheese mixture, thoughtfully rolling it into a cylinder, and arranging it in a baking dish may seem like a lot of effort. But that’s what a side glass of wine is for.
The other perk of this dish is its glorious make-ahead-ness. I just made up that word. NBD.
You can prepare every step up until baking, and then refrigerate your rollatini for up to a day, until it’s ready for its big debut.
When your dinner party guests arrive, your hair (and the dishes) are already done. Genius!
A quick rundown on some herb-related things:
As far as basil goes, I find that you can’t replicate the slightly sweet, aromatic qualities of the fresh leaves with a dried version.
Wanna know the secret to keeping your basil twice as long? Place the stems in a cup of fresh water and cover with a plastic produce bag to create a greenhouse effect.
Mind blown. Herb tutorial, over.
Though, while we’re getting fresh with each other… let’s touch on mozzarella.
The fresh variety has become so readily available that there’s no excuse for not using it in this recipe.
Here’s a tip: Pop it in the freezer for ten minutes before slicing or grating so it’s not too soft.
Also, buy extra so you can snack on it while you roll up your eggplant. You deserve it.
If you really just can’t get down with a meatless marinara-smothered meal, wrap a thin slice of prosciutto around each roll. Oh yes, I went there.
Store-bought marinara is the easiest shortcut to make a quicker version of this dish, but homemade is a snap. Start with quality canned tomatoes and the usual sauce suspects (onions, garlic, herbs) and you’ll be ready to mangia before the wine has a chance to breathe.Print
These grilled and stuffed eggplant rolls overflowing with cheese and herbs are a cozy red-sauce creation you’ll want to curl up with.
- 6 medium eggplant (about 4 pounds)
- Coarse salt
- 3 cups ricotta cheese
- 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves (or 3/4 tablespoon dried), divided
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (or 2 teaspoons dried)
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh), divided
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- Zest of 1/2 lemon
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 cups marinara sauce
- 4 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
- Trim the ends off the eggplant, and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet (using several if you need to), and sprinkle generously with salt. Set aside.
- Add the ricotta, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup Parmesan, 3 tablespoons fresh basil (or 3/4 tablespoon dried), the parsley, 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano (1/2 tablespoon fresh), the red pepper flakes, the lemon zest, and 1 teaspoon ground black pepper to a large bowl. Stir together until thoroughly combined. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper, then add the eggs and stir to combine.
- Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium-high.
- Pat the eggplant slices dry, then drizzle them with 4 tablespoons of olive oil and season them with black pepper. Grill until tender and lightly charred, about 3 minutes per side. Cool to room temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Drizzle a 9×13” baking dish with 1 tablespoon olive oil, then spoon in 1/2 cup marinara sauce.
- Lay one eggplant slice on a cutting board and spread it with a heaping tablespoon of the ricotta mixture. Starting from one of the short sides, roll up the slice in a tight cylinder and place it into the baking dish, seam side down. Repeat with the remaining eggplant.
- Pour the remaining marinara over the rolled eggplant and evenly distribute the fresh mozzarella slices on top. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan, oregano, and olive oil.
- Cover the dish with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake, uncovered, until the cheese is bubbly, about 10 more minutes. Garnish with the remaining basil before serving, or omit the garnish if using dried.
- Prep Time: 50 minutes
- Cook Time: 40 minutes
- Category: Vegetables
- Method: Grilling, Baking
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: eggplant, rollatini, vegetarian, marinara, mozzarella
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Prep
Wash all of the produce well, and measure out all of your ingredients so they will be ready to go when you need them.
When it comes to herbs, I always opt for fresh – unless we’re talking about oregano. I find the fresh leaves to be a bit too pungent and floral, so I always keep some of the dried variety on hand for the familiar touch of Italian flair that it adds to dishes.
As for the parsley and basil, fresh is best.
Trim the ends off of the eggplant, and stand them up tall on the cutting board so you can easily slice them lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Sprinkle them generously with salt and set them aside for at least 30 minutes.
To speed up the process, cover the eggplant slices with paper towels and place heavy-bottomed pans (like cast iron skillets) on top to really press out the moisture.
This helps to remove excess moisture, and any bitterness. It also serves to season the vegetables, so be careful not to add too much additional salt later in the recipe.
Preheat your grill or grill pan to medium-high.
Step 2 – Make the Ricotta Mixture
Mix together the appropriate amounts of ricotta, salt, Parmesan, basil, parsley, oregano, red pepper flakes, lemon zest, and black pepper as indicated on the recipe card above. Note that you will not be using the entire quantity of many of these ingredients in this step. Don’t just dump them all in!
Gently fold the ingredients together using a large rubber or silicone spatula, until thoroughly combined.
Season to taste with additional salt and pepper if necessary. Fold in the beaten egg until thoroughly combined, and yellow streaks no longer remain.
Step 3 – Grill
Using a clean dish towel or paper towels, pat the eggplant slices dry to remove the excess moisture. Drizzle the slices with olive oil and season them with freshly ground black pepper.
Grill each slice until lightly charred on each side. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool to room temperature.
Step 4 – Stuff and Roll
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Drizzle the bottom of a large glass baking dish with olive oil, and spoon in some of the marinara.
Lay out as many eggplant slices as you can without overlapping on a cutting board or clean work surface. Spread each slice with a spoonful of the ricotta mixture, roll into a cylinder, and place into the baking dish seam side down.
Top the rolls with the remaining marinara, then top with the mozzarella slices and remaining Parmesan and oregano. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil.
Step 5 – Bake
Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 20 minutes, and then bake uncovered for 10 minutes until the cheese is bubbly.
Garnish with the remaining basil, and serve immediately. Store leftovers in the fridge for 3-4 days, or freeze
Raise Your Hand if You Want to Dive Face-First into This Cheesy Creation
Ready to dive in? I know I am!
Hearty Italian comfort food doesn’t always have to be overloaded with meat, and this dish is a tasty testament to that.
Not a fan of eggplant? Try whipping this up with zucchini or summer squash instead. It’s perfect for using up a bumper crop, or changing things up when you’re sick of zucchini bread and spiralized veggie noodles.
If this casserole doesn’t feel filling enough on its own, a little angel hair pasta tossed with Parmesan and oil served on the side will bulk it up.
Looking for more veg-friendly ways to get your marinara on? Bounce around these meatless recipes that will satisfy your Italian fix without weighing you down:
- Eggplant, Kale, and Ricotta Cannelloni
- Mini Mushroom Lasagna Cups
- Ricotta, Pecorino, and Mozzarella Lasagna with Mushrooms & Broccoli
A hint of red pepper flakes in my Italian dishes makes me go gaga. How do you spice up your comfort food creations? Heat things up in the comments below, and don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Shanna Mallon on September 7, 2010. Last updated: December 31, 2019 at 4:46 am. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”