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What to Do With Eggplants? Make Eggplant Rollatini

Do you have some eggplants parked in your refrigerator or loitering on your counter waiting for a recipe? Why not turn them into a nutritious and tasty Eggplant Rollatini? This recipe streamlines what could be a tedious process and relies on a slow cooker to free you up for other activities while the rollatini cook. The rollatini--little rolls of thinly sliced eggplant stuffed with ricotta, wrapped in lasagna noodles, crowned with a bright meat sauce, and dusted with Italian cheeses--come out of the slow cooker tender and bursting with creamy ricotta. The sauce complements the earthy eggplant rather than overpowering it, and a light hand with the cheese topping provides the right touch of gooey flavor without heaviness. For this recipe, I recommend using Chinese eggplants (the long thin ones that usually range from dark to medium purple), which have few seeds, aren't bitter, and don't need to be peeled. Forget the draining/salting/frying processes. You soften the eggplant slices and remove excess moisture by zapping them, layered between paper towels, in the microwave. I also suggest using no-boil lasagna noodles, which you soften just to pliability by soaking them in hot water while the sauce cooks. Serve the rollatini with a salad, bread, and perhaps a simple fruit dessert and you've got a great meal. My husband, after taking his first bite of the rollatini, said, "this is one you should definitely put in the cookbook!" See what you think.

Eggplant Rollatini

Eggplant Rollatini -- Serves 6-12

3-4 Chinese eggplants, washed and trimmed

12 no-boil lasagna noodles

1-2 teaspoons of canola oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 pound of lean ground beef (93 percent lean)

1 1/2 teaspoons of dried basil

1 teaspoon of dried oregano

1 teaspoon of garlic powder (or granulated garlic)

1/4 teaspoon of pepper

1 teaspoon of salt

1 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes

1 14-15 ounce can of diced tomatoes

2-3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar

15 ounces of part-skim ricotta cheese

1 egg

1 tablespoon of dried parsley

1 1/2 cups of shredded Italian cheese blend, divided

Coat the insert of a large slow cooker with non-stick cooking spray. Slice the eggplants lengthwise into 3-4 long, thin strips each. Place a paper towel in a large microwave-safe baking dish and place one layer of eggplant slices in the dish. Cover the eggplant slices with another paper towel and repeat the layering until all the eggplant slices are in the dish and covered. Microwave the eggplant slices for 5 minutes and lift one slice carefully (they'll be hot, and watch for steam) with a fork. It should be soft and pliable. If not, continue to cook the eggplant slices in 1-minute intervals, testing after each minute to determine whether the eggplant slices are soft enough to roll. Set the eggplant slices aside to cool a little.

While the eggplant slices are cooking, pour boiling water--4-5 cups--in another large dish and add the lasagna noodles (you can break them in half to fit the dish, if you'd like). Make sure you have enough water to cover the noodles. They should be completely submerged. Set the noodles aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add the oil and chopped onion. Let the onion cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring it periodically. Add the ground beef to the skillet and stir it to break it up into small pieces. Let it cook with the onion for 10-15 minutes or until it's cooked through. Sprinkle on the basil, oregano, garlic powder (or granulated garlic), pepper, and salt and stir them into the ground beef mixture. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, and balsamic vinegar. Let the sauce come to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer it for about 20 minutes to blend the flavors.

While the sauce is cooking and the noodles softening, in a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, egg, dried parsley, and 1/2 cup of the Italian cheese, mixing them until everything is well incorporated. On a large sheet of waxed paper, lay out the eggplant slices and divide the ricotta mixture among them, spreading the ricotta all along the surface of each strip of eggplant. Roll the eggplant pieces up, jellyroll-style, with the ricotta inside them. Test the lasagna noodles. They should be pliable, but, if not, let them sit a little longer. Take a lasagna noodle, let the water drip off, and roll it around one of the eggplant rolls. Repeat the process with all the other noodles and eggplant rolls.

Spoon 1/3-1/2 of the meat sauce into the bottom of the slow cooker insert and arrange the eggplant/noodle rolls in the sauce, standing them on end, so that you can see the rolled eggplant/ricotta (if any of the ricotta comes out of the rolls--and it probably will--just spoon it back on top of the rolls). Spoon the remainder of the meat sauce evenly on top of the rolls. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of Italian cheese blend on top of the rolls. Cover the slow cooker and cook the rolls on low for 4-6 hours until bubbly. Remove the slow cooker lid and let the rollatini sit for 5 minutes before serving them.

Eggplant Rollatini

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