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A&E >  Food

Eggplant roll-ups with spinach and goat cheese a fresh fit for summer and autumn

Grilled eggplant roll-ups with spinach and goat cheese are a blend of summer and autumn ingredients and flavors.  (Tom McCorkle/For the Washington Post)
Grilled eggplant roll-ups with spinach and goat cheese are a blend of summer and autumn ingredients and flavors. (Tom McCorkle/For the Washington Post)
By Ellie Krieger Special to </p><p>Washington Post

This dish captures the shorts-and-a-sweatshirt feel this time of year as we are clinging to summer while cozying up to fall. The summery essence comes from the peak-season eggplant and tomatoes, which are the cornerstones of the recipe. The eggplant is sliced into planks, brushed with oil, seasoned with salt and grilled.

There is no need to heavily salt and drain the eggplant before grilling it. Just start with firm, heavy-for-their-size eggplants, which have minimal bitterness. Then fresh, ripe tomatoes are chopped and simmered in with a little garlic until they transform into a chunky sauce. Both elements can be made ahead so the rest of the dish finishes quickly and easily.

This is where you break out the baking dish, a sure sign of autumn. Spread some of the sauce on the bottom of it, then roll a dollop of spinach and goat cheese filling into each slice of eggplant, place the roll-ups in the dish seam-side down and top them with the rest of the sauce. The filling is made by simply stirring together cooked, chopped spinach, goat cheese (could sub ricotta), Parmesan cheese, parsley, a beaten egg and salt and pepper.

I use frozen, chopped spinach for convenience – it’s nutritionally comparable to fresh, cooked, and its texture works well in this dish – but if you have a load (10 ounces) of fresh spinach to use, you can steam that and chop it up instead. Either way, be sure to squeeze the cooked spinach as dry as possible; you can save the liquid for smoothies or stock.

Baked until bubbly, the dish emerges from the oven with a true comfort food appeal, filling and warm, but fresh and vegetable-centric, with the sunny essence of summer.

Grilled Eggplant Roll-Ups With Spinach and Goat Cheese

2 medium globe or Italian eggplants (1½ pounds each), stems trimmed and cut lengthwise into ¼-inch thick slices

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

½ teaspoon plus ⅛ teaspoon salt, divided

2 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated

2 pounds fresh, ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped (about 4 cups)

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided

One (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

4 ounces soft goat cheese

¼ cup lightly packed fresh parsley, chopped, plus more for serving

¼ cup (scant 1 ounce) grated Parmesan cheese

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Using the 12 longest slices of the eggplant, 3 tablespoons of the oil and ¼ teaspoon of the salt, brush each slice on both sides with oil, then sprinkle one side with salt. (Save any remaining eggplant for another use.)

Preheat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat and grill the eggplant, in batches if necessary, until tender and grill marks form, 4 to 6 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate or refrigerate in an airtight container until needed.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees.

In a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil until shimmering. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until pale golden, 20 to 30 seconds.

Add the tomatoes and ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes have broken down and have become thick and saucy, about 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside or refrigerate until needed.

In a medium bowl, mix the spinach, goat cheese, parsley, Parmesan cheese, egg and the remaining ⅛ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper.

Spread 1 cup of the tomato sauce on the bottom of a large baking dish. Working with 1 eggplant slice at a time, put about 1 tablespoon of the filling on the more tapered end of an eggplant slice and roll it up to enclose the filling.

Place the roll-up, seam side down, in the baking dish. Repeat with the remaining eggplant slices, then spoon the remaining sauce over the roll-ups. Cover the dish with foil and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and the filling is heated through.

Remove from the oven, sprinkle with additional parsley and serve hot. The eggplant can be grilled and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days. The sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

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