Eggplant Cannelloni with Basil Oil

Eggplant Cannelloni with Basil Oil
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Eggplant Cannelloni
What a great meal to come home to!

We just finished reading On the Noodle Road, by Jen Lin-Liu — a great read, by the way, but not the point of this post — and, she, not surprisingly, spoke about various pasta dishes and how they were prepared, and that they were so delicious she could clearly remember and describe them months, perhaps even years, later, when she wrote the book. Frankly, it made us hungry for pasta.

Homemade pasta, of course, but something a little different. Looking through the refrigerator and pantry, we finally decided on Eggplant Cannelloni. Just to change it up a bit, we’d make a basil oil to drizzle over the top after it came out of the oven. This dish also had the advantage that we could prep it all in advance and just pop it into the oven when we got home. Sound good? Good, let’s scratch up these cannelloni!

Serves 2

Eggplant Cannelloni with Basil Oil

Eggplant Cannelloni with Basil Oil


    For cannelloni
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 1 medium eggplant, peeled and cubed
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 Tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 batch basic pasta dough
  • 1 can (28 ounce) San Marzano tomatoes
  • Parmesan cheese (or Grana Padano), grated
  • For Basil oil
  • 1 cup basil leaves
  • 2-3 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt

Abbreviated Instructions

For cannelloni

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a small (about 7 x 9 inch) baking dish.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add carrots and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add eggplant and mushrooms and continue to fry until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and oregano. Remove from heat. When cool, stir in egg and bread crumbs.

Place tomatoes in a colander, split them open, and drain for 10 to 15 minutes. Reserve tomato juice for another purpose.

Using your fingers, crush about three-quarters of the tomatoes and make a layer on the bottom of the baking dish.

Roll out pasta into long, thin sheets about 4 inches wide. Cut to 12-inch lengths. Place eggplant filling along center of pasta sheet and roll closed. Cut into four equal-length cannelloni and place in baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and filling to form one layer of cannelloni in baking dish.

Crush remaining tomatoes and spread across cannelloni, then top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake, covered for 45 to 50 minutes, or until bubbly.

For basil oil

Place basil leaves in colander. Pour several cups of boiling water over the leaves, then immediately rinse under cold running water until cold. Squeeze dry.

Place leaves, oil, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until blended.

To serve, place cannelloni on plates and drizzle with basil oil.

Ingredient discussion:

mise en place
We tried to use simple ingredients: just eggplant, mushrooms, carrots, onions, and garlic.

There’s a number of things going on here, so we’ll hit some of the highlights.  How do you make just half a batch of pasta dough? You don’t. Make a full batch and use about half. Have the other half tomorrow as fettuccine. That’s what we did. Bread crumbs? You have been saving those when you cut into your freshly baked loaves, right? If not, just tear a piece of bread into pieces, toast it in the oven until dry, then crush it.  Egg? Free range is best. Note that we do specify San Marzano tomatoes; we use Cento brand. They’re good tomatoes — widely available, too — and good tomatoes make a difference. Finally, You will never see Parmesan cheese in a shaker can in Italy, so don’t let it into your house, either.

Procedure in detail:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a small baking dish. We used a small Pyrex “refrigerator” box that’s about 9×7 inches, and has a glass lid. It worked perfectly, but use what you have.

Heat oil. Pour some olive oil into a large skillet and place over medium heat. When hot (we sometimes test by dropping in a single piece of onion to see if it sizzles), add the onions and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 4 minutes.

frying carrots
Once the onions and garlic are a bit tender, add the carrots. Stir often, or the carrots will stick and burn.

Add carrots. Now stir in the grated carrots and cook, stirring often so the carrots won’t stick, about 5 minutes. The carrots are there to add a bit of sweetness to the finished filling.

cooking eggplant
Cook the eggplant and mushrooms all the way through. If needed, add another splash of oil to prevent sticking.

Add eggplant and mushrooms. Toss in the eggplant cubes and mushrooms. Eggplant is notorious for soaking up oil, so, if you need to add a bit more oil to keep everything from sticking, feel free. Cook until eggplant and mushrooms are cooked through, about 10 minutes.

adding spices
Add the seasoning at the end so you can taste and adjust as necessary.

Add spices. Now stir in the salt, pepper, and oregano. We add these at the end, mainly so we can taste and adjust without having to worry about the saltiness increasing as any liquid evaporates.

eggplant filling
The egg and the bread crumbs will help bind all the filling together as it cooks.

Add binders. Remove from heat. Let the eggplant filling cool (we did this part one day and finished the next), and, when cool, add the egg and bread crumbs, which will help bind the filling together. Stir thoroughly to combine. Set aside.

draining tomatoes
Draining the tomatoes will keep your dish from having a too-watery sauce. Instead, you’ll have a nice tomato-y sauce.

Drain tomatoes. Place the tomatoes in a colander over a large bowl and split them open, allowing the juice to drain away. Let the tomatoes drain for about 10 to 15 minutes, so you have tomatoes and tomato pieces left. Save the tomato juice for another dish (we made a cooked pizza sauce).

crushed tomatoes
The bed of crushed tomatoes will help the pasta to cook; that’s why we didn’t pre-boil the noodles.

Crush tomatoes. Using your fingers, crush about three-quarters of  the tomatoes into small pieces and line the bottom of the baking dish with crushed tomatoes. We recommend using your fingers because you’ll be able to feel the tough tomato cores that should be removed.

rolling cannelloni
Just spread a line of filling down the center of a pasta sheet and roll it up.

Roll cannelloni. Roll out the pasta dough as thin as you can into a long sheet about 4 inches wide. Cut the sheet into 12-inch lengths, and place filling down the center of each sheet. Roll the pasta up to form a tube.

finished cannelloni
Cut into 4 sections to make the cannelloni a better size.

Cut to length. Using a serrated knife, cut each of these 12-inch tubes into four equal-length pieces, and transfer to the baking dish.  Continue rolling and filling until you have a single layer of cannelloni.

cannelloni ready for the oven
Spread more crushed tomatoes on top, then hit up your dish with just a bit of Parmesan cheese.

Top. Crush the remaining tomatoes to distribute across the top of the cannelloni, then sprinkle with a bit of Parmesan cheese.

Bake. Slide into the oven and bake, covered, for about 45 to 50 minutes, or until everything is nice and bubbly and the cheese is melted. If you wish, you can remove the cover for the last 15 minutes of baking to allow the cheese to brown. Meanwhile, make the basil oil.

blanche basil
Blanching and shocking the basil will set the color so that your basil oil will be a nice lovely green.

Blanch basil. This really isn’t necessary, but it will keep the basil looking nice and green, instead of turning purplish-black. Place the basil leaves in a colander in the sink and pour several cups of boiling water over the leaves. We just boiled up about 4 cups in the teakettle. Once all the leaves are wilted, immediately start running cold water over the basil to stop any cooking and to set the color. Once completely cool, squeeze dry.

making basil oil
After being blanched, it’s just whirr the oil, basil, and salt until everything’s well-blended.

Blend. Place basil leaves, oil, and salt in the bowl of a food processor (or blender), and pulse and run until well-blended. We did this in our food processor, which didn’t do that good of a job, because we had such a small amount. If we had a blender, we would have used it, instead.

Eggplant Cannelloni
What a great meal to come home to!

Serve. Once the cannelloni are baked, place on a plate and drizzle with the basil oil.


We put these together right before some late afternoon-early evening errands, set the dish in the fridge, and baked it all up when we returned around 7. It might have been that we were really hungry, but these were fantastic. Even today, when we’re are writing this, we still think they were fantastic. The garlic mellowed enough during the frying and baking so it didn’t have that harsh garlicky taste, the carrots added just the slightest hint of sweetness — not so much that you’d notice it, but enough to cut any acidity in the tomatoes and bitterness of the eggplant. And, of course, using fresh pasta will move any meal up to the gourmet level — we always say if there’s one thing a cook could do to make his or her meals much better, it’s to make his or her own pasta. Five stars.

Worth the trouble?

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