Monday, January 24, 2011

Eggplant Manicotti with a Creamy Pesto Filling

I love the flavors of Italian cooking, but I am not a huge fan of bland pasta or hyperbolic cheese. This is my version of manicotti that utilizes the texture of eggplant to hold a lusciously thick and satisfying pesto-spiked cashew cheese. I served it several weeks back alongside a much more traditional dairy-based filling and the overwhelming consensus favored this version. Since the filling is nutrient-packed and filling on it's own, this dish stands up well as a main course. Today I served it alongside roasted spaghetti squash with a brown-butter sage drizzle and sauteed broccolini and shallots. Not a bad little Monday.

Soaking the cashews and sunflower seeds neutralizes their phytic acid, an anti-nutrient found in whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, which can inhibit proper digestion. Luckily, in this recipe, it also softens the nuts and produces a much creamier filling.  Try to plan ahead and set them out to soak the morning before you make the dish, but if you forget and it becomes a last minute project, no worries. If you have a half an hour to let them soak, great. If not, the dish will work without any soaking at all.

For this recipe, I love Heidi Swanson's Five Minute Tomato Sauce. I make it with Muir Glen's Fire Roasted Crushed Tomatoes, which is a wonderful line of canned tomatoes. The generous olive oil carries ample fresh garlic and a hint of spicy pepper flakes, resulting in a rich and pungent sauce. You don't need more than a few spoonfuls to be completely in love.

Eggplant Manicotti with a Creamy Pesto Filling

1 large eggplant
2 tbs. olive oil

1/2 cup cashews, soaked for at least 4 hours
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, soaked for at least 4 hours
1/4 cup water, plus more as needed
2-3 tbs. pesto
1 tbs. lemon juice
2 tsp. nutritional yeast
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp. ground pepper

1 cup chunky tomato sauce


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Slice eggplant into about 12 thin slices lengthwise. Drizzle baking sheet with olive oil. Line up eggplant slices in a single layer on sheets (may take two trays) and drizzle the tops with oil as well. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until eggplant is very tender and golden brown.

Meanwhile, drain cashews and sunflower seeds from their soaking water and rinse again. Add cashews through black pepper through to a large food processor and blend until smooth. Add additional water as needed to reach a ricotta-esque texture. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper if necessary.

Taking an eggplant slice, spread 1 tbs. pesto filling

along the fat end vertically. Starting at that end, carefully roll eggplant into a small (but plump) cigar. Repeat with remaining eggplant slices. Place rolls back on a baking sheet and stick back in the oven for 5-10 minutes, until warm. Remove and plate (3 rolls per plate), topping with your favorite chunky tomato sauce.

Relax. Eat Well.


  1. This is superb! Ask my husband the eggplant hater, he gave it a thumbs up. We have left over filling we've been snacking on with rice crackers, very similar to pate.

  2. Deb made this for a group of us last night. It was fabulous! Deb, you must give us a demo of how to slice eggplant so thinly.