Taking out the Meat, But not The Flavor

Who ever said meatless had to mean flavorless? There are occasions when a recipe surprises even me – this was definitely one of those times. I had two beautiful eggplants that I needed to use up before my vacation, and felt that vegetarian meal was the way to go. Eggplant parmesan would be too time-consuming, but Italian was definitely the direction my thinking was headed. Having a general idea about what I wanted to do, I came up with my own invention based on some lasagna rolls I’d made a few years back: Eggplant Rollatini with Ricotta Filling and Homemade Tomato Sauce.
Though these seem complicated, they are actually quite simple. The most involved step is preparing the eggplant slices themselves. Eggplant is a water-laden vegetable, making it act more like a sponge than a vegetable when cooked. That’s why it’s crucial to salt these slices before grilling – you can skip this step, but you won’t get the same result. I stacked three cookie racks and arranged the slices across each layer. The salt acts as a dehydrator, and literally pulls the water out of the eggplant (you’ll see little beads of water towards the end of each 30-minute “session”). It also helps to take away a lot of the bitter taste often associated with the vegetable. The texture of these rolls was perfect as a result!
These slices can be cooked by any method (baking, pan-frying, etc), but I wanted the aesthetic look of grill marks – cue grill pan, which once again proved a great buy for the cost. The width of this pan was perfect for the amount of eggplant I had, and reduced the number of batches substantially. I had a jar of sun-dried tomatoes in my fridge, and I figured these would be great for the filling. For the sauce, I completely made that up – I had a big can of plum tomatoes and a small can of diced. Add some wine and shallots and voila! Even though these rollatini used (mostly) pantry staples with basic prep, the result was fabulous – click HERE to learn more about this vegetarian success!
The pairing for this piece was an interesting consideration: I’ll put it in the words of my friends Tim Wilfong: “a dish that was hearty, but not heavy; had a lightness that was unexpected.” That led me to seek out pieces that were full, yet not overly “heavy” in content. Liszt was my immediate conclusion, given his ability to achieve this dichotomy of character. While his music can be rich and lush, it can also be light and delicate. This led me to his piano works, and his Consolations, Six Pensées poétiques, were the perfect match. Light, yet filled with rich nuances and melodies, these piano works made for the perfect pair. I’ve included here a recording of the famous Vladimir Horowitz performing Consolation No.3. His interpretations of the other six Consolations are also available on YouTube – enjoy!


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