- Servings: 6
2 globe eggplants
oil for frying (they recommend olive oil, but for those with tighter budgets, any other high-heat oil, or a mix of that and olive oil, will be fine)
2 cups whole milk ricotta
~1/3 cup dry, unseasoned breadcrumbs
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
~ 2 cups tomato sauce (I used the late great Marcella Hazan's tomato butter sauce)
~1/4 cup heavy cream
Parmesan (or a similar cheese) for serving
Slice the eggplant, using a mandoline or a sharp knife, the long way into 1/4-inch planks. Layer in a colander, salting generously with coarse salt between the layers. Let sit at least an hour, then give a good press to push out the liquid. Blot dry.
Pour about an inch of oil into a heavy skillet, and heat to temperature over a medium-high heat (if you have a thermometer, you want it to read 360° Fahrenheit). Fry the eggplant slices (without crowding the pan), until they begin to color, ~3-4 minutes. Remove the slices with tongs, and set on a paper-lined plate or a rack/colander to drain. Repeat with the remaining eggplant (if desired, you can do this step a day in advance). If the slices crisp up a bit, you can put them in a covered container, and they'll soften back up (another reason cooking them in advance works beautifully).
When all of the eggplant has been fried, heat the oven to 425° Fahrenheit. In a bowl, mix together the ricotta, breadcrumbs, lemon juice and zest, thyme and salt. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
To assemble the casserole, pour the tomato sauce down on the bottom of a mid-sized casserole dish (or a couple small ones). Take a slice of the fried eggplant, and place a lump of filling at the wide end (~1-2 tablespoons, depending on the size of your eggplant), and roll it up. Place in the casserole dish, seam side down. Repeat with the remaining eggplant and filling. When you're finished, pour a bit of cream over each of the rolls to moisten (it's fine if it runs into the sauce).
Bake, uncovered, until the sauce cooks down around the edges of the pan, and the rolls darken a bit, ~20—25 minutes. Serve warm, with a grating of cheese over the top.