To make the Italian tomato sauce, place the olive oil in a heavy-based stockpot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is soft (approximately 5 minutes). Add the San Marzano canned tomatoes. Bring to the boil, then add half of the torn basil leaves, sugar and a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for approximately 45 minutes or until the sauce has reduced to your required consistency, stirring occasionally so that the sauce does not stick to the pot and burn, then remove from the heat. Add water to the Italian tomato sauce, as needed to keep the sauce lovely and moist. Discard garlic clove.
Preheat the oven to 180°C conventional oven/ 160°C fan-forced (350° Fahrenheit/Gas 4).
Meanwhile slice the eggplant (aubergine) 5-10mm thick – see note. Heat the canola oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Fry the eggplant slices, in batches until golden brown (approximately 2 to 3 minutes on each side). Season the eggplant with salt as you cook them and transfer to a plate lined with paper towel. Add more oil if required, and repeat with the remaining eggplant.
Prepare your food mill over a clean saucepan or stockpot. Ladle the cooked Italian tomato sauce into the food mill and stir to collect the lovely tomato pulp and juice in the pot. Discard the tomato skins and seeds that are left in the food mill.
Place 2 ladleful’s of Italian tomato sauce into a large baking dish. Place one cooked eggplant slice onto a clean work surface. Place 2-3 tablespoons of Italian tomato sauce onto the eggplant slice and use a spoon to spread it evenly. Scatter a few cubes of mozzarella and torn basil leaves on top of the sauce layer. Roll up the eggplant to enclose the filling. Place into the baking dish. Repeat with the remaining eggplant. Ladle Italian tomato sauce on top of the Involtini of eggplant then scatter the remaining mozzarella on top of the Italian tomato sauce.
Step 6: Bake the Involtini of eggplant for 15 minutes or until the mozzarella melts. To serve, scatter the whole basil leaves on top – buon appetito.
Note: In Italy, there are excellent varieties of melanzane (eggplant/aubergine) that are rounded and a vibrant purple colour such as ‘Rosa Bianca’, ‘Violetta di Firenze’, ‘Bianca Sfumata di Rosa’, and ‘Prosperosa’. These varieties have a more delicate flavour and are not bitter. In Australia, I choose Graffiti eggplant (also known as Sicilian eggplant) – they are less seedy and also not bitter. The Italian varieties above and Graffiti eggplant do not need to be salted and rinsed before cooking.
If you are using a black-skinned eggplant, however, you will need to salt the eggplant. To do this, slice the eggplant as per step 3, sprinkle both sides of the eggplant slices with salt and layer in a colander. Set aside for 20 minutes to maximum of 1 hour. Rinse under cold water, drain and use paper towel to pat dry.
500g eggplant (aubergine) – see note|3 tablespoons (60ml) extra virgin olive oil|1 small onion, finely chopped|1 clove garlic, whole|800g San Marzano canned tomatoes, chopped)|16 large basil leaves, torn, plus 12 whole leaves to serve|1 teaspoon sugar|200g mozzarella, finely diced|canola oil, for frying|Sea salt