Eggplant rollatini with almond ricotta and fresh basil

Epplant rollatini

I’ve been thinking a lot about failure lately, and by association, about success. It all started when I read an incredibly patronizing article in The Guardian about Michelle Obama’s new book American Grown. To me, writing a book about gardens, having it published, and then actually mentioned on The Guardian, even in a negative and snarky way, would be a huge success. But apparently, for Michelle Obama, it’s an embarrassingly domestic and female abandonment of her successful career as a lawyer – of her intellectual pursuits. (How is writing a book not an intellectual pursuit? How?) This article put me in a tizzy on so many levels that I can’t respond rationally. Firstly, it seems so sad to me that we spend so much time tearing other people down, and deciding that they’re not successful. And, of course, there’s the old debate about whether or not a woman’s traditional work, of raising children and feeding her family, is valuable in any way. And as for gardening! It will come as no surprise that I find growing a garden, and cooking the food that you grow, a noble pursuit. When we visited Monticello, the tour guide told us that of all of Jefferson’s achievements, he was most proud of his garden and his farm. Of course his farm was only a success because of the people that worked it, and was a financial success because he didn’t pay those people, he owned them. Which, as a way to live, is no kind of success at all. As for myself, I feel like the person Churchill described when he said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” By most standards, I’ve probably failed at everything I’ve tried to do, but I only feel like a failure when I let myself feel sorry about it. I’ve succeeded at making two feature-length films, but I’ve failed at having them distributed. Would it be better if I’d never tried to make them? Surely not! And yes, I’m a “homemaker” and a “mother” and I’m not even first lady, I haven’t published a book, I haven’t started a national campaign to fight childhood obesity. I never had a successful career as a lawyer, or as anything else for that matter. Forget staying home with children – I stopped looking for a full-time job because I didn’t want to leave my dog home alone.I would love to have a career. I’d love for somebody to be able to refer to me as their “colleague,” I really would. I admire mothers that have careers. Someday, maybe, I’ll do something useful for society. Oddly, I don’t feel like a failure, most of the time. I like the balance in my life. As long as I can persuade myself to cheerfully pursue things I’m passionate about – to write stories nobody will ever read, and make films nobody will ever see – I feel alright. As long as I can make a meal and have David or one of the boys look up with a smile and say, “this is lovely!” I’m doing fine.

Which is what happened when I made this eggplant rollatini. It’s a simple dish. Long strips of eggplant, marinated, breaded and roasted, lined with slices of roasted red pepper, thin pieces of mozzarella, and an almond “ricotta.” I thought the almond ricotta turned out very good. Obviously, the meal isn’t vegan, because it contains an egg and mozzarella, but if you left those out, it would still taste good. The almonds added a lovely, deep, sweetish flavor to the very savory and tangy tastes of eggplant and tomato sauce.

Here’s Bob Dylan with Love Minus Zero/No Limit. “She knows there’s no success like failure
And that failure’s no success at all.”

One large eggplant prepared this way. Cut the eggplant lengthwise into 1/8th – 1/4 inch pieces. For the breading use one cup flour, 2 pieces whole wheat bread, ground to crumbs, and 1/2 cup pecans roughly ground, plus black pepper and a few shakes of oregano.

Make tomato sauce like this. I seasoned it with basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, smoked paprika, and red pepper flakes.

Roast 2 red peppers. If you have a gas stove you can do it right on the flame. If you don’t (like I don’t) You can broil them. I put the shelf in my toaster very near the top, and then broil the peppers about 1/2 inch from the heat. Whatever method you use, once they’re brown on all sides, put them in a bowl with a plate or tinfoil on top. Leave them 10 or 15 minutes, then peel them. For this recipe you’ll cut them into long, thin slices.

Slice mozzarella very very thin. (And grate a small amount as well, to sprinkle on top.) I used two thin slices per rollatini, but cheese is a very personal issue, so use as much as you like!

Wash and dry about 1 cup (loosely packed) basil leaves. Nice big ones are best, but whatever you have is fine.

Make some almond ricotta.

1 heaping cup sliced almonds
1 clove garlic, roasted
3 T olive oil
3-4 T water (if you’re going to make it vegan, and leave out the egg, use less water so it’s nice and thick)
1 t balsamic or white wine vinegar
1 egg

In a blender, combine the almonds, garlic and vinegar. Blend till rough crumbs. Pour the olive oil in a thin stream, blending all the while. Then add the water till you have a smooth, thick batter. Add the egg and process till everything is smooth.

Preheat the oven to 400

Spread a little tomato sauce on the bottom of a small roasting pan (mine seems to be 12″ by 7″). Put in a piece of eggplant. Line it with two slices of pepper (End to end, to cover the whole slice in one layer), two slices of cheese(arranged the same way), basil to almost cover. Put a big tablespoon of almond ricotta about 1 inch from one end. Starting that end, roll it up, and put it on the tomato sauce-lined pan, seam side-down.

You should end up with two rows of rolled up eggplant. Spoon some sauce down the middle of each row, lengthwise. Then sprinkle cheese on top of that.

Bake until the cheese is melted, bubbly, and starting to turn brown – about half an hour.


13 thoughts on “Eggplant rollatini with almond ricotta and fresh basil

  1. Claire, you are fabulous! I can’t believe how much you cook, how creative and delicious your ideas are, how you find the time to write about it in such an insightful and delightful way, and for your passionate defense of what you believe in. Please, keep it up and let the critics occupy themselves however they will!

  2. I find you inspiring- thank you for writing as often as you do, showing us recipes full of playful inventiveness, and reminding us of music to fill our homes with ‘joyful noise’-

  3. I love your posts. They inspire me in many different ways. You could probably turn this blog into a lovely cookbook someday…

  4. Dear steenbeck – please don’t feel that you have failed. Oscars and Pulitzers and Bookers are great things to have, I suppose; and I’m quite sure that one day you will realise at least some of your dreams. I was so moved by what you wrote about David and the boys on your anniversary, and to me you’re doing the most important job in the world right now. You’ll have plenty of time for the rest of it later on. Enjoy the food and the love and the jokes and the stories!

    • Thanks, TFD. You’re always so encouraging!! I think the funny thing is that I don’t feel like I failed! I feel lucky, mostly. And I feel inspired by stories like yours – you’ve raised children and done so much else as well, and have so many things you’re good at!

      • I’ll tell you my best thing, though – it’s that all my children have formed strong long-term relationships with people I REALLY LIKE!

      • Heh heh – my boys are still at the age that they’ve decided they’re never going to get married, never going to move out of our house, and always going to live together.

        I can imagine how happy I’d be if I liked their partners, though! Some day!!

  5. I just wanted to echo everyone’s thoughts as well. I’m so glad I found your blog! The music you choose is inspiring, your recipes are so tasty and your writing is wonderfully vivid. And I love that you love herb gardens….one of my most favourite things 🙂 I’ve tried so many of your recipes that I now have an “Out of the Ordinary” section in my recipe binder. You are definitely Making A Difference!
    Thank you,

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to tell me! I like to think that people are actually trying the recipes. Hopefully they work most of the time!

  6. Pingback: Spicy zucchini-corn risotto with toasted pumpkinseeds, and Risotto burgers | Out of the Ordinary

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