Remember a wee while back when I said I used to be a picky eater? Well, to be completely honest, I haven't outgrown all of my picky eater dislikes. I've gotten over the majority of them, but a few of them linger. Eggs are the biggest one, but not far behind them is eggplant.
I won't go into all the reasons I dislike it--after all, this is a blog about liking food--I'll just say that overall, I try to steer clear. I can appreciate it aesthetically, and I'll grant that its smooth, shiny skin is pleasant to the touch. Eating it, however, is just not for me.
Of course, it's never that simple. In addition to the cold, harsh reality that sometimes we need to eat things that we don't much care for, just for the sake of politeness, there is the small matter of my weekly installment of the season's bounty. There are certain fruits and vegetables that my CSA farm doesn't grow, despite all my wishing that they would. Peas and tomatillos are among them; sadly, eggplant is not.
Now that we're in high season for the fruit-bearing nightshades, alongside the tomatoes and peppers I'm getting eggplant. Fortunately for me, I have a mother who not only loves eggplant, but also lives close enough that I can dispense with the eggplant fairly easily. Still, I feel a duty to try, at the very least, one or two recipes to see if I can get myself to a point where I can use the eggplant myself--and hopefully even enjoy it. I've become a convert to the theory that you can like anything as long as it's prepared in the right way; surely there's an eggplant recipe out there that will win me over, right?
So, when I saw this recipe in a recent issue of Gourmet, I flagged it. It's been my experience that sometimes a previously objectionable vegetable will become palatable when cooked with very high heat, and I was hoping that that would be the case with my eggplant. Rather than sauteing it, baking it, braising it, or what have you, this recipe calls for grilling it. And if there's any iffy fruit or vegetable that isn't improved by grilling, well, I haven't tried it yet.
The grilling wasn't the only thing this recipe had going for it: it's pizza. Hard to go wrong, right? And it's grilled pizza, to boot. (You could, of course, do it in the oven if grilling isn't an option.) Toss in some cheese, some olives, and some garlicky olive oil, and I was on board.
If you've never grilled pizza before, or even if you have, it can be a little scary. Perhaps "thrilling" is a better word. Ordinarily, making pizza is a straightforward affair that involves, at its most complicated, sliding the prepared pizza from a peel to a pizza stone, and back again once it's cooked. Everything's flat, everything's solid, and unless you're a little overzealous in the jerking motion you use to transfer the dough to the stone, it's hard to lose the dough along the way.
On the other hand, when you grill pizza, it's a bit more hair-raising, or at least it is for me. I have this constant fear that I'm going to drop the dough either wholly or partially down through the grill grate, and that it will be ruined in any number of different ways. Covered in ash, burned and blackened, misshapen, and so on. At first I figured that I'd approach it the way I do pizza in the oven: prepare the dough on the peel, and slide it quickly (hopefully effortlessly and perfectly) onto the grill. What could go wrong?
Well, I realized that I had to brush one side of the dough with oil and put the dough on the grill with the oiled side facing down, that's what. So much for my effortless sliding. In the end, I put the dough on the peel (not before shaping it beautifully and oiling it on a different board, necessitating an awkward transfer to the peel and resulting in the loss of the beautiful shape) and in one determined-but-not-quite-fearless motion, flipped it over, oiled side down, onto the grill. Success! I don't have a picture of the dough on the grill, but trust me, it worked perfectly. Nothing slipped through the cracks, it was aligned directly over the coals, and I was on my way to grilled pizza.
Not just that, I was on my way to a good grilled pizza. You know what? Grilled eggplant isn't half bad. My faith in the principles of "anything's okay if you cook it right" and "everything's better with high heat" remains intact. It's a curious combination--the smoky eggplant, the briny olives, and the slightly nutty provolone--but somehow it works. I wouldn't say that this is my favorite pizza ever, but it's one I'll make again.
What foods have you had trouble convincing yourself to like? Are there particular recipes that helped you like them? Please share!