Involtini is an Italian word for various small bites of food consisting of some sort of outer layer wrapped around a filling. Involtini can be made with a wrapper of meat, poultry, seafood, or vegetables, with fillings like cheese, vegetables, cured meats, and nuts.
Involtino is the diminutive of the word involto, meaning small bundle, wrap, or parcel, and involtini is the plural of involtino. Thus, involtini are small bites of food—essentially hors d'oeuvres. Sometimes in the U.S., you will hear the word rollatini, which would generally refer to the same type of food, but be aware that this is an Americanization and not a word you would hear in Italy.
Common Types of Involtini
Involtini can be attractive and tasty little bites. While they don't take much more preparation than many other dishes, they will add flair to passed appetizers.
Thin veal cutlets are commonly used as the wrapper for making involtini. The cutlets are gently pounded thin before being slathered with the stuffing mixture, rolled, and then grilled or baked. The same can be done with thin beef scaloppini slices.
Thin slices of eggplant are also a popular involtini wrapper. Very simple involtini could also be made by sautéeing thin slices of eggplant, rolling them around little dollops of fresh ricotta cheese, and then briefly simmering them in marinara sauce. You could even wrap the eggplant around pasta for a fun variation.
Braciole, from Sicilian cuisine, is an involtini. It can be made with a variety of different types of meat or even swordfish, rolled with a cheese and herb filling (sometimes with the addition of prosciutto), breaded and fried.
If you struggle for what to do with zucchini from your garden, making zucchini involtini can be the answer (and it rhymes). While eggplant usually requires preparation in salting and draining it, zucchini can simply be sliced thinly, stuffed, rolled, and then baked or fried.
An example of a main course prepared using the same technique would be involto di carne, a meat that has been rolled and stuffed like a roulade, sometimes breaded and fried, and usually served with a sauce.
What's in a Name?
If you see involtini or involto on a menu, you can expect that it is some kind of roulade. Involtini should be small enough to be appetizers while an involto is more likely to be a main course or a fancy vegetable side dish. Sometimes a calzone, which is essentially an inside-out pizza, is referred to as an involto.
Chefs and dinner party hosts might use involtini to give a fancier name to their creations than mini-roulades or even the informal "roll-ups." Outside of Italy, these terms could refer to dishes from a variety of cuisines. To the extent that involto means bundle or wrap, such disparate foods as burritos and sushi could arguably fall under the category of involti.
While you may incite a debate, you could use the word involtini to refer to certain styles of handmade ravioli or other stuffed pasta bites. However, since individual lasagna bites are stacked bundles rather than folded or rolled, your case is weaker there. But a beef carpaccio that is rolled up rather than served flat could be named involtini di carpaccio.