Thursday, August 27, 2009

Facing Down Eggplant

Pizza and olives

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.

Eggplant (I)

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.

Olives on the patio

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.

Eggplant (II)

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?

Sliced eggplant

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.

Grilling eggplant

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.

Olives
Pouring olive oilSwirling oil with garlic

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.

Fire

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?

Dough squishGrilled pizza doughBrushing oil on pizza dough

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.

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!

Dinner

Grilled Eggplant, Green Olive, and Provolone Pizza

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 medium or 1 large clove of garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/4 pound eggplant, cut into rounds 3/4-inch thick
  • 1 pound pizza dough, store-bought or homemade (see note), at room temperature
  • 5 ounces grated provolone cheese
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped pitted green olives (about 12-18 olives, depending on size)
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. Prepare your grill for medium, direct heat. The coals are ready when you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill grate for 3-4 seconds.
  2. Combine the garlic and olive oil in a small bowl, and stir together.
  3. Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with garlic oil, and sprinkle them with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
  4. Place the eggplant slices on the grill. Cover the grill and cook the eggplant, turning once, for 6-8 minutes, or until tender and browning. Transfer the slices to a plate and, when cool enough to handle, cut them into rough 1-inch pieces.
  5. Roll or stretch the dough (see note) into a rectangle approximately 12 by 10 inches on a large baking sheet or a pizza peel. Brush it with with the garlic oil.
  6. Flip the dough onto the grill so that the oiled side is facing down. Brush the top of the dough with more of the garlic oil, then cover the grill. Cook the dough until the underside is beautifully golden, about 2-3 minutes (start checking after 1 1/2).
  7. Use some long tongs to transfer the crust back to your baking sheet or peel, grilled side up. Brush it with a bit more oil, then scatter the cheese, olives, eggplant, and parsley over it.
  8. Slide the crust back onto the grill (topped-side up, obviously), cover, and cook a further 3 minutes or so, until the underside is golden and the cheese is nice and melted.
  9. Transfer to a cutting board, slice, and serve.

Notes

  • This recipe is a fairly good basic pizza dough. It's easy, it's reliable, and I think it tastes pretty good. The dough is even better the next day--it's easier to work with and has better flavor--so don't hesitate to make it a day or two ahead of time. You could even mix it up before work and just let it rise in the fridge until you get home!
  • When shaping the dough, I find that it's easiest to get the dough started with a rolling pin, and then switch to stretching it by hand. I hold it near the edges and work my hands along the edge, so that it stretches under its own weight. It develops a flat bed and a nice swell of a crust.

7 comments:

Bee said...

Anne, we are supposed to be out the door . . . but I just had a quick peek at your blog. VISUAL FEAST.

I'll be back after the weekend. YUM.

Megan said...

Sprinkling eggplant with salt ensures that it will taste pretty good, no matter how it's cooked. And on pizza -- definitely can't go wrong! I dog-eared this same recipe when I was flipping through Gourmet.

I dislike scallops and no matter how many times I've tried them in how many different ways, I still have not gotten over that.

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

First... I love your new blog! It's beautiful!

Second, I adore grilled eggplant. I adore pizza. So, I can't wait to try your recipe :-) I made a pesto and grilled zucchini pizza on Friday and it was yummy!

Anne said...

Cheers, Bee!

Megan - even sprinkling it with salt hasn't (in the past, at least) helped me get over my dislike of eggplant. Sprinkling it with salt AND grilling it, however... I think I'm a convert!

Thanks, JAPRA! Glad you like it, and I hope you enjoy this recipe. A pesto and grilled zucchini pizza sounds excellent... I just might try it tonight!

SarahKate said...

I love love love eggplant. I really like it in curries and stews. It almost disolves and the texture is gorgeous... but not as gorgeous as your pizza!

Alicia said...

I just found you via 'follow friday' on twitter....I LOVE your blog and all your pictures - this is beautiful...If you see an IP address in Boston spending hours on your blog, it's me reading your archives!!!

Kathryn Davies said...

I think eggplant needs one of two things: either to be cooked very, very well (or should I just say "overcooked") or to be very thinly sliced (not in chunks). I've never found chewing through a chunk of undercooked eggplant pleasant, even though I generally love the vegetable.
Eggplant has worked well in Cajun dishes I've made, because it adds body and a sort of background flavor to rice dishes. This only happens, though, when it's really cooked down and becomes mushy. Also, the best pizzeria in Weimar had a pizza with thinly sliced eggplant and Parmesan. You simply have to try this sometime!