Eggplant pasta bake
- 60 min
Everyone knows the two classic cannelloni dishes: traditional cannelloni with a meat filling and the healthier cheese and spinach version. Today we suggest another vegetarian alternative that will whet the appetite of even diehard traditionalists, cannelloni with eggplant! The ingredients include some fundamental building blocks of Italian cuisine, namely fresh egg pasta, tomato sauce with basil, and béchamel sauce. This iconic trio is combined with a soft filling of eggplant and melted mozzarella cheese. The result has a simple flavor that is also hearty and succulent. It deserves pride of place at the most lavish Italian lunch but would go down well at any time. Because cannelloni with eggplant are ideal for preparing in advance, this dish could be a practical solution to cook ahead for weekdays.
To make the cannelloni with eggplant, first prepare the fresh pasta: pour the flour into a large bowl, add the eggs 1, and mix everything 2 by hand until the resulting dough is smooth and elastic 3. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
In the meantime, prepare the sauce: thinly slice the onion 4 and heat a little oil in a pan. Add the onion 5 and fry for a couple of minutes, then pour in the tomato puree 6.
Season with salt and pepper 7 and cook over low heat with the lid on for about 30 minutes 8. After cooking, add the fragrant basil leaves 9 and set to one side.
While the sauce is cooking, you can get on with the eggplant: firstly, cut it into slices and then into cubes measuring about ½ inch (1 cm) 10. Drizzle oil into another frying pan, add the eggplant 11 and salt 12.
Sauté over medium heat for about 5-7 minutes, then set aside to cool 13. Now it’s time to make the béchamel sauce: melt the butter in a saucepan and heat the milk separately. When the butter has melted, pour in the flour all at once 14 and beat until the roux is golden 15.
Now add the milk slowly 16, season with salt and pepper, and continue to stir over medium heat until the sauce is thick, smooth, and even 17. Lastly, cut the mozzarella into ½ inch (1 cm) cubes 18.
Once the dough has rested, divide it into two portions 19 for convenience and cover one of them with a tea towel to stop it from drying out. Using a pasta maker, or rolling pin if you prefer, roll out the dough until it is less than 0.05 inch (1 mm) thick 20 and cut it into 6x4 inch (15x10 cm) rectangles 21. The sheet must be very thin, otherwise the cannelloni won't cook properly. If you prefer a thicker pasta sheet, you will need to blanch the pasta rectangles, dip them into ice water and lay them out on a clean dish towel before continuing.
Now you are ready to assemble your cannelloni: stuff each pasta rectangle with a tablespoonful of eggplant 22 and one of mozzarella 23, then roll up to form a cylinder 24.
When you have made all the cannelloni, take a 9x9 inch (24x24 cm) baking dish, and cover the bottom with a ladle of tomato sauce and one of béchamel sauce 25. Lay the cannelloni in the baking dish side by side 26 and top with the remaining tomato sauce 27,
then add the rest of the béchamel sauce, blending it into the tomato with the back of a spoon 28. Lastly, sprinkle the surface with grated Grana Padano DOP cheese 29. Bake in a conventional oven preheated to 350°F (175°C) for approximately 30 minutes, then take the dish out of the oven and allow to stand for a few minutes. Serve the cannelloni with eggplant while they are piping hot 30!
Eggplant cannelloni can be stored for 2 days in the refrigerator. You can freeze them when they are cooked and have been left to cool down completely.
For a stronger flavor, you can pep up the eggplant with some of the grated Grana Padano DOP cheese before adding it to the filling. Alternatively, you can substitute smoked provola cheese for the mozzarella cheese.
In this case, you won’t need to blanch the pasta sheets, though this is still an option if you prefer softer cannelloni.