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Have you ever had a dinner party, been told there was a vegetarian coming and had a small heart palpitation? You quickly try to think of your tried and true recipes and think of things you could substitute for the meat, Mushroom Stroganoff comes to mind, but you see it on many restaurant menus so that may not do. What on earth do you do? You can search your cookbooks and the internet and truly wonder of the depth of information out there but are you really up for cooking a separate meal? Do you want to impress the meat eaters as well? I have a recipe for you!

This is my sister-in-law's recipe, lovingly ripped off from Nigella Lawson and modified by the both of us. It is rich and creamy and works for adults and children alike, especially if you don’t mind the children being slightly covered in tomato sauce. It is very filling and most people will not even miss the meat! It does take time and is fiddly but the compliments are worth the effort, and you can prepare it before hand and leave in the fridge until needed.

To serve you just place it in the middle of the table and let your guests serve themselves, most people will go back for more. Served with a green salad and crusty bread it serves six grown ups easily, pop in a preheated oven when the guests arrive and let the mouthwatering aroma waft over the guests whilst they have a starter or pre-dinner drink and relax with them instead of having to leap up and down preparing the meal. We found that a nice mellow red wine went well with this.

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 Large eggplants / aubergine (approx. 500g each) sliced lengthways at most 5mm thick
  • 150 ml olive oil
  • 2 x 700g/25 oz bottles of tomato passata (this amount can vary, you need enough to cover the invotini, I only needed two containers as 500gr/17.5 oz each, luckily passata is easily frozen.)
  • 1 tablespoon* of chopped parsley
  • 2 balls (200g/7 oz) Mozzarella

For the stuffing

* the tablespoon measurements are UK and US standard tablespoons, 15ml

Method:

Cook the eggplant by brushing with olive oil and cooking them under the griller/broiler or in a griddle pan or fry pan or even on the barbecue grill. Ms Lawson is all about criss cross patterns but I am all for speed. You need to cook them until they are soft and lightly browned, put aside to cool and repeat until all done.

Time to make the filling: you can put all the ingredients into a bowl and mix away until combined. If you are entertaining small children this is good fun as the mixture is creamy although a little gritty but if you are not into the shredding and crumbling of cheese throw it all in the food processor minus the parsley and pine nuts. Stir these in by hand once creamy and blended.

If you are going to cook the meal straight away then preheat the oven to Gas mark 5/150°C/375°F.

Here comes the fun part: the assembly. "Involtini" describes several recipes to be found on the internet. They have varying wrappings and fillings; some are meaty and some not, but all feature a spiral or roll. Strawberryfrog believes that the word is closely related to "involute" and this seems plausible.

You need a large greased lasagne or baking dish for this and a seat and some music on and small children to have fun with food if you can cope.

I am going suggest two methods for this preparation. I usually lay out a slice of eggplant and place a tablespoon-sized mound of mixture near the bulbous end of your slice, mould the mixture into a sausage type shape. Then roll from the base (the widest end) to stem end of the eggplant to form a roll of eggplant with a cheesy middle.

The other option is to spread the cheese along the slice in a thick, even layer. I would roll this stem to base of the slice so the danger of the cheese mixture sticking to the base of the tray is minimal. Place the finished roll in the dish and line them up in little organised rows (this does help with serving later) until the dish is full.

Sprinkle with parsley and then pour on the passata until all the rolls are covered with the tomato goodness. Shred or chop the last ball of mozzarella cheese onto it.

If you are preparing the dish ahead of time, now you can refrigerate it until the guests arrive. Then place it into oven and cook for 25 – 30 minutes until the top is bubbling, browned and everything is hot. It will take a little longer if coming from the fridge. Serve it hot, but allow to cool after coming out of the oven as the hot cheese filling is dynamite for removing skin from the roof of an unsuspecting mouth.

If you want some variety or dislike eggplant my sister in-law suggests the use of zucchini / courgette, and shango suggests Chinese Eggplant, prepared in a similar fashion.


Passata is made from ripe tomatoes that have been puréed and sieved to remove the skin and seeds. It's sold in jars and can be smooth or chunky depending on the level of sieving. http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/glossary/p.shtml?passata


Thank you to my taste tasters StrawberryFrog and macaque.

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