WRITTEN ON January 25th, 2011 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Appetizer, Cheese, Dinner, Italian, Side Dish, Tomatoes, Vegetarian

My husband is one of those lucky people who comes from a big family on both sides. Not only that, but most of his cousins are in a similar age bracket: late 20’s to about 40, all with burgeoning careers and adult lives and families of their own.

Last weekend, we came together with the hubster’s aunts, uncles and cousins on my father-in-law’s side. Sadly, it was to mourn the passing of a family member. We set out Saturday morning, car loaded with food, driving across Long Island and into New Jersey, where we spent the day remembering and showing support and just generally loving each other.

I’m always amazed at the way tragedy brings families back together. We go about our daily lives often forgetting that we have this shared connection to people other than our parents and siblings. Cousins who start out as frequent playmates grow away and apart, as sports, school, and social lives become more demanding.  Careers take entire families clear across the country, or in some cases, the world.  And while social media outlets have certainly made it easier to stay up to date on the whereabouts of our loved ones, nothing compares to a real live hug, a shared laugh about the old days, the reminder that genes run deep, and love runs even deeper.

In my own family, gatherings are always accompanied by good food (and plenty of vino). My hubby’s side is no different. Sharing a meal is the quickest, easiest way of bringing people together, back into the fold of family.  Especially on days as tough as Saturday.  Food serves as the comforting balm that helps people relax and reunite.

I wanted to serve something familiar, easy on the stomach with an enticing smell that would warm people the moment they walked in the door.  Italian food was a natural choice.  Cheesy, creamy eggplant bathed in a long simmered marinara, with a side of meatballs and some fresh Italian bread greeted the family as they came in from the cold, glad for each others company in the midst of heartbreak.

After an entire day of catching up, tears, hugs, and much needed belly laughs, we left for home amidst promises of more frequent reunions, the oldest cousins leading the charge. As I looked around a room filled with faces that looked so like my favorite face in the world, I found myself hoping we’d find our way back to a shared table, the sooner the better.

Rollin' on home...

Eggplant Rollatini (serves 2)
For the sauce:
1/2 a medium sized onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup red wine
1 28 oz can San Marzano crushed tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
1 handful fresh parsley, oregano and basil, chopped
1 carrot, washed and whole
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
Crushed red pepper
Olive oil
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan. Add onion, saute about 4 minutes until soft and golden. Add garlic and pinch of crushed red pepper. Saute about 1 minute. Add wine, reduce by half.  Add tomato paste, stir to combine.  Add crushed tomatoes, carrot, bay leaf and herbs.  Simmer about 1 hour, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
crushed tomatoes.
For Rollatini:
1 large eggplant, sliced lengthwise into 8 thin slices
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup flour
2 cups Italian bread crumbs
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 375. In a medium sized bowl beat eggs. On a small sheet tray, pour flour, season with salt and pepper.  On another small sheet tray, pour bread crumbs.  Working with one eggplant slice at a time, dip slice into flour to coat, shake off excess flour.  Dip into eggs to coat.  Then dip into bread crumbs, coating fully but shaking off excess.  Lay breaded eggplant slices on an olive oil coated baking sheet in one single layer. Bake in oven about 15 minutes, turning once, until dried out and crispy.
For filling:
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesean cheese
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped
1 handful fresh basil, chopped
1 dash cinnamon
1 dash nutmeg
1 dash red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients. Spread a dollop of cheese mixture onto each eggplant slice. Roll eggplant.  Place in a glass baking dish and cover with sauce. Bake in 375 oven for about 20 minutes until soft and bubbly.

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