My eggplant involtini with beef turns a traditionally vegetarian dish into one filled with rich, meaty flavor. Brimming with lean ground beef, pine nuts, plus an herby ricotta filling all rolled up in thin slices of grilled eggplant, this eggplant involtini recipe is then gently simmered in a tomato sauce and finished with three cheeses!
Eggplant Involtini, Little Packages of Bliss
Friends, I absolutely adore eggplant, that lovely, deep purple member of nightshade family that adds lovely texture to every dish it's a part of.
Whether I'm using eggplant as the vessel for my stuffed eggplant recipe, or adding it into a rich, velvety, stew-like dish such as ratatouille, or dicing it and caramelizing it to add into my orecchiette with pork ragu, eggplant is just such a terrific and delicious ingredient to cook with.
And so, it makes perfect sense that eggplant would be the ideal ingredient to create “involtini” out of (which in Italian means “little packages”), filled to the brim with lots of savory flavor and sauciness.
While eggplant involtini is traditionally vegetarian, made with a simple filling of ricotta cheese and seasonings, then simmered in a tomato sauce and topped with cheese, my eggplant involtini recipe has a bit of a twist...
Think thin slices of eggplant lightly grilled then rolled up around a filling of richly seasoned ground beef, a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts, plus a ricotta filling flavored with parmesan, herbs and lemon zest.
These tasty little bundles are then nestled into a garlicky tomato sauce, topped with mozzarella cheese, then baked for a short time until very tender.
Finished with a savory sprinkle of pecorino and parmesan cheese, plus fresh basil, these mouthwatering little eggplant involtini are sheer bliss on a plate!
My Recipe for Eggplant Involtini with Beef
Involtini is one of those classic rustic dishes and that's a huge reason why I really love it.
The ingredients are simple and savory, and the presentation is family-style, which always seems to make dinner time extra enticing and cozy.
When preparing eggplant involtini, it's best to choose traditional globe eggplants that are larger in size, with a nice round middle and some length.
I typically use two eggplants, and slice each length-wise into 6 thin slices (roughly ¼ to ½ inch thick), for a total of 12 slices. This makes them quick to grill so they can become delectably pliable, which makes 'em ready for filling and rolling.
The beef filling is quick to cook and includes onions, garlic, a sprinkle of herbs, plus a bit of panko breadcrumbs which act as a binder.
As for the ricotta, that's quick to mix up with a kiss of lemon zest, a sprinkle of herbs, plus parmesan and pecorino cheeses.
All that's left is to prep the rich tomato sauce to nestle the eggplant involtini in, then bake for a short while until tender and bubbly.
Here's a at my recipe for eggplant involtini with beef: (or just jump to the full recipe...)
- To get started, I slice my eggplant length-wise and brush each slice with olive oil plus a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
- Working in batches, I grill the slices for a couple of minutes per side, just until tender and pliable. When done, I set the grilled eggplant slices aside on a baking sheet or a large platter.
- Next, I cook my beef with some seasonings for a few minutes, then set that aside.
- I mix together my herby ricotta filling, and set that aside.
- I prepare my easy tomato sauce in an oven-proof skillet, and reserve a small amount to use as topping.
- Then, I prepare my involtini by placing the slices of grilled eggplant in front of me, spooning in all the fillings, then carefully roll upwards to create a little eggplant package.
- Next, I place the rolled up eggplant seam-side down onto the baking sheet to hold. (I repeat the last 2 steps until all the eggplant slices are filled and rolled up.)
- I then nestle my eggplant involtini into the sauce and top with some of my reserved sauce plus some mozzarella, then bake for 25 minutes.
- To finish and serve, I sprinkle over some pecorino and parmesan cheese, plus some basil and parsley, and serve the eggplant involtini with beef straight out of the skillet.
Eggplant Involtini with Beef
by Ingrid Beer
This eggplant involtini with beef is a rich, hearty twist on the vegetarian version, prepared with beef, herb ricotta and pine nuts!
Yield: Serves 6
Nutrition Info: 551 calories per serving (2 eggplant involtini)
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 40 minutes
- 2 large globe eggplants, sliced lengthwise into 12 slices that are ¼ to ½ inch thick
- Olive oil
- Black pepper
- 1 large onion, diced, divided use
- ¾ pound lean ground beef (85/15 or leaner)
- 8 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press, divided use
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning, divided use
- 2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs (or regular breadcrumbs)
- 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
- ¾ cup grated parmesan cheese, divided use
- ½ cup grated pecorino cheese, divided use
- 3 tablespoons chopped parsley, divided use
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts (toasted, preferably)
- 1 cup shredded whole milk mozzarella cheese
- Basil leaves, for garnish
- Begin by gathering and prepping all of your ingredients according to the ingredient list above to have ready and organized for use.
- Place a grill pan over medium-high heat. Prepare a large baking sheet by lining it with foil or parchment paper.
- Lightly brush some olive oil over each slice of eggplant, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Working in batches, grill the eggplant slices for 2 to 3 minutes on the first side, then flip and grill an additional 2 minutes until the eggplant is lightly charred and pliable/soft.
- Place the grilled eggplant slices onto your lined baking sheet, lightly overlapping them as needed to fit them all. Continue to grill the eggplant sliced until all are grilled. Set aside to cool slightly.
- To prepare your beef filling, drizzle a bit of olive oil into a large cast iron skillet (or other large, heavy bottom ovenproof skillet), and add ¼ of your diced onion. Saute for a moment or two, then crumble your ground beef into the skillet, along with a pinch or two of salt and pepper. Cook the beef until almost cooked through.
- Add to the beef half of your pressed garlic, plus 1 teaspoon of the Italian seasoning, and stir to incorporate. Once the beef is completely cooked and the garlic fragrant, turn off the heat and stir in the panko breadcrumbs. Use a slotted spoon to scoop the beef mixture out of the skillet and into a paper towel-lined bowl to absorb the excess fat/liquid. Set aside to cool.
- Next, prepare your ricotta filling by mixing together the ricotta cheese, ½ cup of the parmesan cheese, ¼ cup or the pecorino cheese, 2 tablespoons of the chopped parsley, the lemon zest and some salt and black pepper. Keep cold until ready to roll the eggplant slices.
- To prepare your sauce, place the skillet you cooked your beef mixture in back over medium-high heat, and drizzle in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Once hot, add in the remaining chopped onion, and saute for a couple of minutes. Add in the rest of the garlic, plus the rest of the Italian seasoning, and stir until fragrant.
- Add in the crushed tomatoes, plus a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper (it will need the salt), and simmer the sauce for 10 minutes. Remove ¾ cup of the sauce to reserve as topping for the eggplant involtini.
- Preheat your oven to 375°.
- To roll up the eggplant involtini, place 3 or 4 grilled eggplant slices in front of you vertically, with the wider part in front of you.
- Spoon about 1 ½ tablespoons worth of the ricotta filling onto the wider part of the slice of eggplant, and press it gently. Spoon a very scant ¼ cup of the beef filling over top of the ricotta, mounding it up as best as you can. Sprinkle over a few of the toasted pine nuts.
- Then, fold the bottom of the eggplant slice over the mound of filling, and carefully roll it upwards, gently tucking as you go, until the involtini rests on its seam. (Some of the filling may fall out the sides, just push it back in, if you can.)
- Place the rolled eggplant involtini, seam-side down, onto a large plate or platter to hold while you fill and roll the rest of the 12 slices. (You can also just place them back onto your foil-lined baking sheet.)
- Once the eggplant slices are all filled/rolled, gently nestle them into the skillet with the sauce. Spoon a small amount of the reserved sauce over each eggplant involtini, then sprinkle over each a small amount of the shredded mozzarella cheese.
- Bake the eggplant involtini, uncovered, for 25 minutes, broiling the last few minutes to create a golden top, if desired.
- To finish the eggplant involtini, sprinkle on the remaining grated parmesan and pecorino cheese, as well as some fresh basil leaves (torn or julienned), and serve.
Tips & Tidbits for my Eggplant Involtini with Beef recipe:
- Good quality grass-beef ground beef: Whenever I use ground beef as an ingredient these days, I opt for lean, grass-fed ground beef. The flavor and quality is better, and using the 93/7 lean-to-fat ratio is just right so that the meat is less oily.
- Substitutions for ground beef: Other great options to use in place of the lean ground beef are ground lamb, turkey, or chicken. You could even use a portion of spicy Italian sausage, if desired.
- Larger globe eggplants: When choosing eggplants for involtini, pick two (or three, if they're smaller) that are similar in size and shape. This will make slicing easier, and make each involtini roughly the same size. I like globe eggplants that are somewhat round in the middle with some length on them, but not too round or ball-like, which can make the involtini too large when rolling.
- Pecorino and parmesan, a yummy combination: While you can certainly opt for just one of these cheeses and have excellent finishing flavor for this dish, I'm using both pecorino and parmesan because I'm a cheese lover. Pecorino has a stronger, more tangy flavor (often made from sheep's milk), and parmesan (cow's milk) balances that with salty, nutty flavor from a longer aging process.
- What to serve with eggplant involtini: I like to keep things simple with some rustic bread on the side, and/or a green salad.
Hungry for more tasty recipes? Check out this Warm Eggplant Dip with Yogurt, this Grilled Eggplant Parmesan, this Spicy Chickpea Stew with Eggplant, this Eggplant Parmesan, or this Crispy Eggplant Burger!