When traveling in Tennessee, we were struck by the similarity between the local country ham and Italian prosciutto. Both are sweet, salty, and silky at the same time. I only wish that country ham and “real” imported prosciutto di Parma were as easy to find as the smoked ham sold at every delicatessen. I used the country ham in one of my favorite dishes, Involtini di melanzane—eggplant rolled with ham and cheese. These are often prepared in the Sicilian style and baked with lots of red sauce. That’s just fine for a big main course, but this version is much lighter. It is still fairly substantial, so you might want to follow it with a seafood entrée… well, yeah… or a colossal steak!!!
NOTE: Pecorino Toscano, a semisoft sheep cheese, is not always easy to find, so substitute fontina (or your favorite melt), if need be.
Prep Time: 15 min / Cook Time: 20 min / Serves: 4-6
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon nely chopped fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon nely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1∕3 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 small globe eggplants, about 1 pound each 1∕4 cup canola oil, as needed, plus more for the baking dish
- 11∕2 cups shredded semisoft Pecorino Toscano, such as Pinna Brigante
- 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh flat leafed parsley, plus more for serving
- 6 thin slices Virginia ham or prosciutto, cut in half to make 12 pieces, each about 3 inches square
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 5 ounces baby arugula for serving
- To make the vinaigrette: Whisk the lemon juice, thyme, and rosemary in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in the oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and store at room temperature for up to 4 hours.
- Using a thin sharp knife, trim o and discard the rounded “shoulders” of each eggplant, as they are too small to roll properly. Cut the remaining eggplants lengthwise into 12 slices about 1∕3 inch thick. Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over high heat until it is hot but not smoking. In batches, add the eggplant and cook, turning once, until pliable and lightly browned, about 2 min- utes. Add more oil to the skillet, as needed, being sure to heat it well before adding the eggplant. Transfer eggplant slices to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet or platter. Let the eggplant cool, turn- ing it to drain on both sides. 21
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet.
- Mix the cheese and parsley in a medium bowl. Knead and press the mixture in your hand to make 12 equal logs (they will fall apart a little, but don’t worry). Place a piece of ham on the wider end of each eggplant slice, and top with a cheese log. Starting at the covered end, roll up each egg- plant slice to enclose the lling. Arrange the rolls, seam side down, on the baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper. ( e eggplant rolls can be covered and kept at room temperature for up to 2 hours.)
- Bake until the cheese begins to melt out of the rolls and the eggplant is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven.
- Position the broiler rack about 6 inches from the source of heat and preheat the broiler on high. Broil the eggplant until they are lightly browned, 1 or 2 minutes. Remove from the broiler and let cool slightly.
- Toss the arugula with the lemon vinaigrette in a large bowl. Divide the arugula salad among 4 to 6 dinner plates and top each one with an equal number of rolls. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve immediately.