Even though this recipe uses less than the usual amount of cheese, my crack team of testers didn’t seem to miss it. My secret? The speedy marinara sauce. Loaded with garlic, a bit of oil and a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes, this sauce radiates so much robust flavor that folks forget the missing cheese. And I encourage you to make this marinara at home rather than use store-bought; it is simple, fast and quite tasty.
A few notes about buying eggplant. I recommend the biggest you can find for this recipe. You’ll know they’re fresh if the skin is smooth and the flesh is firm to the touch. If you can’t find large eggplants, use the smaller ones and just overlap the slices slightly to make substantial roll-ups.
I believe that this eggplant Parmesan is an excellent candidate for the centerpiece of a meatless meal. Just round it out with some steamed broccoli and a tossed green salad, and you’re good to go. This is the kind of cozy cold-weather meal that will make everyone glad winter is not quite over.
INSIDE-OUT EGGPLANT PARMESAN ROLLS
Start to finish: 1 hour
2 slices large rustic (not bagged sliced) white or whole-wheat bread, crusts discarded and bread cut into 1/4-inch cubes (about 13/4 cups)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds large eggplant
Olive oil cooking spray
1/2 cup finely chopped roasted red pepper
2 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 ounce grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 teaspoon minced garlic
21/2 cups purchased marinara sauce or speedy marinara sauce (recipe below)
Fresh basil, to garnish
Heat the oven to 400 degrees, and adjust the oven racks so there is one in the top third and one in the bottom third of the oven.
In a medium bowl, toss the bread cubes with the oil and a pinch of salt. On a large rimmed baking sheet, spread the cubes in an even layer and bake on the oven’s lower shelf until golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer them back to the bowl.