Eggplants belong to my favorite vegetables. For the first time I ate them years ago when one of my Italian friends made a traditional Melanzane alla Parmigiana. It was absolutely delicious and the most tasty way to be introduced to this vegetables. From all different cuisines the way Italians serve them--with mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil, as whole dish in itself or in pastas, is still my favorite. But I also met some surprisingly many people who do not like eggplants at all, as too bland and mushy in texture. Even my Afghan friend, who shared her family eggplant recipe, admitted that herself she did not like them too much.
Some time ago, at a dinner party, I served an eggplants dish. One of my guests, a Scandinavian friend, confessed that unfortunately he did not like them. Although there was choice of many other dishes, being a very sweet guest, he decided to try them. I am not sure why (probably out of courtesy) he took a second helping and said that they were really good and not at all what he remembered. I think it must have been really a traumatic culinary experience of his life, because when we met almost a year later at the other party he announced "You will be forever in my life a woman who convinced me to eat eggplants." So if you belong to that part of the mankind that does not appreciate this vegetable yet, maybe I will be able to get you to try them.
This dish comes from the Italian tradition as it use tomatoes and basil, but because it calls only for the ricotta cheese it is much lighter than other eggplant dishes.
4 medium eggplants, try to chose the long ones,
1 15-oz ricotta cheese, preferably fresh,
4 garlic cloves,
1 medium onion,
1 16-oz can of tomato sauce,
a bunch of fresh basil,
salt and pepper,
olive oil for frying.
1. Wash eggplants and dry them. Cut out green ends. Cut each vegetable alongside into a 1/4 inch-thick slices. Salt the slices and set aside for 20 minutes.
2.Clean up the brownish water that appears on the eggplant with paper towel.
3. Heat oil in a large frying pan (the largest you have) and fry each slice on both sides until slightly brown. Recently, instead of frying them I have been grilling eggplant slices brushed with oil until they are brown; grilled ones absorb less oil than when they are fried.
4. Preheat oven to 400F.
5. In a small pot heat one tbsp of olive oil, add chopped onion, and fry it for about 5 minutes, until it becomes transparent. Pour over tomatoes juice and simmer on a small heat for about 5 minutes.Take from the heat and set aside.
6. Put the ricotta cheese into a medium bowl. Add garlic, chopped basil, salt and pepper, and mix all the ingredients.
7. Spread a tbsp of ricotta on one side of each eggplant slice. Roll each slice up.
8. Pour most of the tomato sauce at a bottom of an oven proof dish and place eggplant rolls in it tight next to each other. Drizzle the remaining couple of spoons of the sauce on top of the eggplants. Cover everything with aluminium foil and put in the hot oven. Bake for about 30 minutes (sauce at the bottom needs to boil briefly).
Serve warm with a baguette and red wine.