aubergine involtini of spinach, almonds & Knockalara sheep's cheese with green chilli pesto
This is a variation on a recipe from the new book, ‘for the love of food’ that we have been featuring on our pre-theatre, set dinner and lunch menus for the past couple of weeks. That published version is itself a variation on another rolled-up recipe we’ve used in the past, and is a close cousin to the ‘aubergine parcels’ dish that has been a Paradiso classic for many years now. It is also distantly related to the ‘aubergine gamelastra’, which is long overdue a comeback.
The reason all of these related dishes are so popular in the Paradiso kitchen and dining room alike is that they are all based on one basic technique, one that we use to turn an aubergine into a collection of delicious, pliable sheets of edible wrapping material. It goes like this:-
Crank the oven up high. Slice the aubergines lengthways anything from 0.5 to 2cm thick, depending on the dish, brush both sides with olive oil and roast the slices in the oven, turning once, until both sides are nicely browned.
You might burn a few slices in the process but that’s better than trying to eat half-cooked aubergine, which has the texture of a slug lying in the midday sun. I’ve long been convinced that the reason so many people claim to dislike aubergine is because their experience of it is in restaurants where the poor unoiled vegetable has been briefly passed over a grill so it gets nice ‘go faster’ stripes but remains raw in the middle.
Aubergines need olive oil and aubergines need cooking. Learn this simple technique and you will learn to love your aubergines, and before you know it you will be making your own variations on parcels, involtini, rolls, and maybe even gamelastri. (That’s the plural of gamelastra, as students of latin will know).
4 green chillies, deseeded and chopped
50g fresh parsley
50g fresh coriander
10 cardamom pods, seeds only
zest of 1 orange
150mls olive oil
2 large or 3 medium aubergines
80g whole almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
200g spinach, cooked and finely chopped
250g fresh sheep’s cheese
25g hard sheep’s cheese, grated
Make a pesto by blending the chillies, parsley, coriander, cardamom, orange and olive oil in a food processor. Season with salt.
Mix together the almonds, spinach and sheep's cheese, and season with salt and pepper.
Place the aubergines on a work surface. Take a generous tablespoon of the filling, squeeze it into a cylindrical shape with your hands and place this at the base of one of the aubergine slices. Roll the slice up to form a tight parcel. Repeat with the other slices, then place them, seal side down, in an oiled oven dish.
Heat two tablespoon of olive oil over low heat in a small pan. Add the cherry tomatoes and garlic, and simmer for 2-3 minutes until the tomatoes are beginning to soften. Add two tablespoons of water, bring to a boil and pour this sauce over the aubergine involtini. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until warmed through.
Drizzle some pesto on each plate and place three involtini on top, with some of the tomato sauce clinging to each portion.