Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Eggplant Pepper Pizza

I'm pretty... freaked out today, but I can't tell why. This whole applying to grad school thing is starting to make my head spin. I've gotten into a whopping 12 programs -- for a master's in library and information science -- and am still waiting for the word on 2, but the financial situation isn't as bright as I hoped it would be: I've gotten a few nibbles, but nothing serious. For some reason, it started to get under my skin today, of all days, and I'm about to bite off the rest of my nails in anticipation. Since I received three -- three -- letters in my e-mail regarding financial aid yesterday alone, I'm waiting for more, and the wait is just... freaking. me. out.
In other news, the scallion cakes went over pretty well -- there were only two halves left over, which I packed up and brought home to D. Poor guy: I didn't even let him taste them when I made them (ok, maybe a tiny nibble, but that's just not enough) so I was happy that there were a few left for me to bring home for him. When I got home, I headed back into the kitchen. I'd promised D pizza last night, and you've got to start the dough early to give it time to rise. First, I had to stop at the grocery store for vegetables. Food shopping always takes me forever, especially if I don't have a list, and at a place like Dominick's, the produce is plentiful but mostly rotten, so it takes time to find something edible.
After a half hour of searching, I was able to locate a juicy looking eggplant -- on sale! -- and some green peppers -- also on sale! I sprung for one treat: an orange pepper, which was extremely expensive (especially in comparison to the green, which cost less than 50 cents) but it was worth it. I like a bit of color on my pizza, and since the eggplant was going to be hiding under the cheese, I had to get something else that looked nice for the top. No dice on the yellow or red peppers, though: too expensive and all had nearly gone bad at the store. This is why I dislike Dominick's: by the time you get most of their produce home, it's gone bad. Gross. I also picked up a purple onion. Again, I had to fight for it: those onions must have camped out there for a long time, because this was the only one that didn't look completely mangled.
By the time I got home, it was after four, so I had to start working straight away. Lucky for us I had some sauce in the fridge, left over from a sauce-making binge, so the hardest part of the pizza was taken care of. All I had to do was make the dough and roast the veggies, and the pizza was practically made.

Eggplant Pepper Pizza
Begin by making the dough. I used the same dough as I did in my Baby Bella Mushroom Pizza, which is a Giada De Laurentiis recipe, but I'll reprint the recipe here for ease. This dough is great, because it creates a sturdy, flat surface for the vegetables to rest on. I piled a whole eggplant, two cups of sauce, two cups of cheese, two peppers, and an onion (split between two rounds of dough) and it wasn't the least bit soggy or difficult to manage in slices. I'd like to experiment with other types of dough -- softer, with more rise -- but I needed something flatter and sturdier for that many vegetables.
Pour 3/4 a cup of warm (105º to 115º) water into a small bowl, then stir in 1 envelope of active dry yeast. Let the water mixture stand until the yeast powder has dissolved, which usually takes about five minutes.
Brush a large bowl lightly with olive oil -- not very much, a teaspoon or so should suffice -- and set aside. Mix together, in a new, non-oily bowl, 2 cups all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 3/4 teaspoon salt (or less, depending on how much sodium you're willing to digest.) I did about 1/2 a teaspoon, which turned out fine. You might be wondering: why all that sugar? Sugar helps the yeast grow by supplying energy to the yeast, which makes it grow at a faster rate. Hooray for science!
Giada says that you should make this dough in a food processor (including mixing the dry ingredients by pulsing them a few times) but I used my handy KitchenAid Mixer. I think that I talk about this thing too much, but so what: it is my best friend in the kitchen (besides D.) You really do need a machine to process this dough, though -- I don't think that you could get the proper results mixing by hand. It is worth a try, though, if you don't have any blending tools handy. I just would be concerned about the dough becoming too tough as you work to incorporate the liquid ingredients with the flour mixture.
By now, your yeast should be dissolved. With the mixer (or processor) on low, add 3 tablespoons olive oil and the water/yeast combo. Mix (or process) until the dough forms a sticky ball. Transfer said sticky ball to a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth, which should take only one or two minutes, tops. You can add more flour, one tablespoon at a time, if the dough is too sticky.
Transfer the dough to your oiled bowl, turning over once to coat it evenly in oil. Wrap the bowl -- not the dough itself -- with saran wrap and let sit for one hour, or until the dough has risen to be about double its original size. The bowl needs to be in a relatively warm, draft-free area; otherwise, it will take longer to rise and may not rise properly. When the dough has risen to twice its size, punch down to remove air bubbles.
As the dough rests and doubles, begin to prepare the vegetables. Slice one eggplant into extremely thin discs along the bias. Lightly brush both sides of every slice with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with a tiny bit of salt. Put under a hot broiler for 6 minutes, flipping halfway through. Set aside. Since your oven is already kind of hot at this point, I'd suggest pre-heating it now for the pizza: 500º is the temperature you want for this pie.
Julienne half of a purple onion -- long, thin strips are better for pizza toppings -- and throw it into a hot pan with about 1 tablespoon of melted butter. The butter should not be foamy -- wait until the foam subsides before putting the onions in the pan, as this indicates that the butter is hot enough to cook the onions. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over the onions and stir to evenly coat, then place a lid on the pan. This allows the onions to sweat a bit and steam themselves. Stir occasionally to prevent stickage.
While the onion begins to cook, julienne two bell peppers, preferably bright-colored ones. Throw those into the pan as well and stir, then place the lid back on to allow them to steam as well. Stir occasionally until all the vegetables are soft and pliable.
By this time, the dough should be ready. Punch down and knead for a minute or two until it is smooth. Cut the dough in half, shape into balls, and roll out each ball into a thin sheet: this, obviously, will be the pizza crust. Brush each one with a bit of olive oil. This is the fun part: topping time.
Spread about half a jar (one cup or so) of red tomato sauce on each flattened round of dough. I used homemade sauce, but one great thing about pizza is that jarred sauce doesn't really take away from the flavor; in fact, sometimes the sauce in the jar is a better consistency for pizza than the homemade stuff. Sprinkle each pizza with about 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese. Layer the eggplant slices on each pizza and sprinkle with another 1/2 cup shredded cheese. I also grated a bit of fontina cheese and put it on the pizzas at this stage for a more complex flabor. Next, I added half the pepper/onion mixture to each pizza. Assembly complete!
The easy part is the baking: slide each pizza in the oven for about 12 to 15 minutes (the oven, remember, is preheated to 500º) until the cheese is bubbly and the crust edges have browned. Remove from the oven and cut into wedges. I love how easy this stuff is to make, and how healthy it ends up being: you can't go wrong with a mountain of fresh vegetables, zero preservatives, and homemade crust, can you? By the way: obviously, these are pretty large pizzas, and we don't eat both in one sitting. It keeps very well if you just wrap it in foil and chuck it in the fridge, and is perfect cold for lunch -- or for dinner again the next day!

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