When we lived in the loft on Richmond Street, we didn’t entertain much. I do love to entertain, but that apartment never felt right for having company. The kitchen table was too small. And broken. The couch sat too low to the floor for the loft ceilings. Jeff’s editing suite sat in the middle of the open concept living space, wires strung every which way.
In the two and a half months since we’ve moved, we’ve entertained more than the entire three years we lived in the loft. A new house, and I suspect this is especially true when it is your first, means visitors. Friends and family are eager to come by and see your new place; toast to a happy home, help you settle in, and I am happy to oblige. There are few things as satisfying as cooking a meal for loved ones. Sometimes, they bring gifts!
Our first dinner party in our new home happened to fall on a Sunday. I had been eagerly trying to schedule a dinner with the two strapping young men brave enough to help us move all our earthly possessions into a three story, stacked townhouse. Sunday was the only day free for all of us, and I agreed albeit wearily. Sunday is our get ready for the week day. Entertaining would surely knock me off my game, my entire week would be doomed.
As it turns out, I was wrong and having guests over for Sunday night dinner turned out to be one of the best ideas I’ve had in a long time. We’ve since hosted several Sunday dinners, each one more relaxed and satisfying than the last. Having two days to prepare for your guests changes everything, and if you use that time wisely when your guests arrive, all you have left to do is enjoy a cold glass of white wine.
Back in April we invited my cousin Ashleigh and her partner Bryan over for dinner. I had been anticipating their visit for weeks as I had our meal planned out well before we even started packing to move. Ashleigh and Bryan are both vegetarians, and I thought of them immediately when I found this recipe in the Tartine Bread cookbook. Our home was filled with the aroma of a pot of tomato sauce simmering all afternoon, making for a perfect dinner on an unseasonably chilly Sunday. The perfect end to the weekend, and the perfect start to the week.
Adapted from Tartine Bread
From Tartine Bread: Involtini, derived from a word meaning “to wrap or bundle,” are preparations in which meat, fish, or vegetables are wrapped around a filling.
Give yourself lots of time to prepare this dish. It really is the perfect Sunday dinner as you will need to give yourself lots of time to sweat the eggplant and stuff and roll your involtini. The original recipe says to slice eggplant into 12 slices, but I had well over 20 with stuffing and sauce to spare.
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 ounces tomato paste
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
One 28-ounce can whole tomatoes (I used San Marzano)
Red wine vinegar
1/4 cup bread crumbs
2 cups whole ricotta
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2-3 medium globe eggplants
1 cup cream
1/4 cup Asiago cheese, finely grated
1. Prepare the tomato sauce. Heat a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot and 2 tablespoons of olive oil and saute until soft, about 10 minutes. Add remaining olive oil and tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and raise heat to bring to a boil. Reduce head to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Break up tomatoes and season with vinegar and salt.
2. For the stuffing, combine bread crumbs, ricotta, lemon zest and juice, thyme and salt.
3. Wash and trim your eggplants. Using a mandoline, cut the eggplant lengthwise into slices 1/8 thick. Sprinkle both sides of each slice with salt and layer them in a colander, in a criss-cross. Let stand. This draws our the moisture and keeps them from getting mushy in the oven. After an hour or so, blot eggplant dry with a towel.
4. Brush each slice of eggplant with olive oil. Using a grill pan over medium-high heat, grill each slice until they begin to take on some colour, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Set aside grilled slices.
5. Preheat oven to 425F. Cover the bottom of a medium-sized baking dish with tomato sauce. Place a spoonful of filling at the end of each eggplant slice. Role the slice around the filling and place, seam-side down, in the baking dish. Generously drizzle cream over each roll to moisten it. Bake until the sauce begins to darken and the rolls are caramelized, 20 to 25 minutes. Garnish with any remaining tomato sauce and Asiago cheese.