Welcome to Best Before, where we unearth recipes from retro cookbooks that were maybe forgotten for a reason.
My mom cooked for us a ton when I was growing up. She was a teacher, and after picking me and my sister up from our after-school activities, she’d go home and whip up what was honestly a very nice meal. Granted, sometimes it was something out of a box—your Stove Tops, your Kraft Mac & Cheeses—but more often it was a lasagna, or a fill-in-the-blank chicken dish, or something from a new cookbook she had gotten.
One of my favorite cookbooks that Mom pulled from was comedian-actor Dom DeLuise’s Eat This…It’ll Make You Feel Better! You may know him as Burt Reynolds’ sidekick in such notable films as The Cannonball Run (both I and II) and Smokey and the Bandit II, or as the voice of Itchy Itchiford in All Dogs Go To Heaven (what a tearjerker that was, amiright?), or from one of many Mel Brooks' films like Spaceballs or Blazing Saddles.
Or, most likely, all those movies are from before your time and you’ve never even heard of Dom DeLuise. That’s OK. This is my story and my childhood, and I was a big fan. Besides, Eat This… was one of the only “celebrity” cookbooks out there (that I knew of, anyway), and the excitement of my mom feeding us something that a famous person was making in their home was a good way to get us to eat our vegetables.
The cookbook is filled with photos of Dom himself dressed in chef attire, holding the completed dishes or ladling Sunday gravy onto spaghetti. Interspersed with the recipes are spreads showing him in his personal life, with his own mother or his wife and kids. I’m sure those photos were staged and stilted but in an era before social media gave us a little too much access to what the rich and famous think or look like at home, it felt like an unprecedented peek inside a celebrity's world.
The recipe my mom used to make the most—which was probably because it was my favorite meal and the one I constantly requested for birthday celebrations and special occasions—was Dom’s Mom’s Stuffed Eggplant Rollups.
To be honest, I remember that my mom didn’t exactly love making the dish because it’s a little complicated for a weeknight dinner—eggplant has to be dredged in flour and eggs, then fried, rolled with with cheesy mixture, and finally baked. But I always set the table (it was my sister's job to clear it), and I always cleaned my plate.
MAKE THIS: Eggplant Rollups
I recently obtained my own copy of Dom’s cookbook and, of course, tried the stuffed eggplant rollups right away. The result was…not what I remembered. My mom says she can’t recall exactly what alterations or substitutions she used to make, but I have a hunch she skipped the homemade red sauce and used a jar of Prego to ease the workload.
Beyond that, Dom also uses whole slices of fresh mozzarella in his rollups, but I changed it around a bit and instead mixed some shredded mozzarella with the ricotta before rolling it into the eggplant. Plus, I sprinkled shredded mozzarella over the entire thing before baking it, which is a move my mom definitely did as well.
In the end, I changed the recipe to be more reflective of both my memory and my current tastes, and, not to be a dick to Dom, I think it came out pretty fucking great. Don’t get me wrong, his recipe is perfectly fine. But this updated and adapted version is even better.