I know, it’s not technically a pizza. And I’m not technically allergic to gluten, either. It’s more like a “wheat sensitivity” — you know, the kind that flares up after a week in New York City, when you’ve been eating at restaurants that start you off with Sliced Baguette With A Tub Of Whipped Butter and proceed to serve you things like This Soup Just Begs To Have Bread Dipped In It and I’ll Just Have A Bite Of Your Pasta, ending on a high note with We’re On Vacation Let’s Get Dessert. By the time we got home, the skin on my forehead was so angry it wouldn’t speak to me, and my belt needed to be loosened a notch.
So now that we’re back, I’ve returned to my usual low-wheat ways in an attempt to scare off the skin/waistline demons, and I’ve decided that I literally need to force myself to exercise at gunpoint. So what did I do? I made myself a pizza-like tart with layered eggplant for crust, topped it with fresh roasted tomato sauce and grated mozzarella, garnished it with basil, and got a puppy.
The tart was totally delicious. Really. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to be much when you assemble it on the baking sheet, but after 10 minutes in a hot oven it’s, like, wow. You need to use fresh mozzarella though — the kind that comes in a tub of liquid and is annoying to grate. Worth it, I promise. Also, I’d strongly suggest roasting your own tomatoes instead of using store-bought sauce. It only takes a little while, and the flavor difference is astounding.
(You may notice that I’m stalling on the puppy thing, because I’m afraid you’re judging me. “Why the heck did you get a puppy? You work three jobs and haven’t even finished your dissertation. You are basically a puppy yourself!” I know, I know. But what is it that the Dog Whisperer says? Dogs need exercise, discipline, and affection — in that order. And I am no different. When I get bored and restless, I gnaw on things like unfinished projects and my own sense of self worth, I forget where I buried my yoga mat, I dig up distractions and eat things I know I shouldn’t.
So I thought, you know, it would probably be a good idea to get back to basics: daily walks, healthy food in moderate amounts, affectionate yet rigorous training. Studies have shown that these kinds of things work best when accountable to a friend, and good friends can be found in all sorts of places. I chose the local animal shelter, but if you go to bars or play D&D to find friends you’ll get no judgment from me.)
Pizza with Eggplant Crust
-1 large eggplant, sliced horizontally into 1/8-1/4 inch rounds
-4 tomatoes, quartered
-3 cloves garlic, peeled
-2 cups grated mozzarella
-1-2 tbs fresh basil, sliced into ribbons
-4 tbs olive oil
-1/4 cup sea salt
-salt and pepper (for flavoring)
Preheat the oven to 400 °F, and chop/slice/peel away. You’ll need two baking receptacles for this: a baking dish (Pyrex or other nonstick surface) and a baking sheet. Once the oven is hot, put the tomatoes and garlic cloves in the baking dish, drizzle 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over them, and mix a little bit before putting them in the oven for about 30-40 minutes. They should be slightly browned when done
Meanwhile, while the tomatoes roast, attend to your eggplant “crust.” I’m one of those people who believes that eggplant should be salted before it’s cooked, but it’s not the law. It would be funny if it was, but it’s not — no police will come to your front door of you skip this step. Still, I’ll explain it: shake a little salt on a large plate, lay the eggplant slices on the surface, sprinkle more salt and lay another circle of slices, and so on, until you have a raw eggplant cake. Let the slices sweat it out a bit (about 15 minutes is good enough for me), and then gently wipe them off before tossing them with the remaining olive oil in a large mixing bowl.
Check on the tomatoes and garlic to make sure they’re not burning. If you still have a little time before taking them out to cool, use this opportunity to create your eggplant surface. I did it by laying them in a sort of fallen-domino pattern, one overlapping the next, in three horizontal rows. This made a sort of wonky rectangle, but if you have the skills to create a spiral or other psychedelic fractal, be my guest.
The tomatoes should be out of the oven by now, leaving room for the eggplant. Put the baking sheet with the eggplant in the oven to precook for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, carefully peel the tomatoes and toss them in a mixing bowl with the roasted garlic cloves, a shake or two of salt, and a few cracks of pepper. You can either crush them all together with a fork or use a mixer. We used our hand mixer because we wanted a smoother sauce, but be warned: this will create a very watery sauce that might want to dribble off the baking sheet.
Once the eggplant crust is sufficiently precooked (it doesn’t need to be browned, but that’s up to you), smear on the tomato sauce, sprinkle the cheese and the basil, and put back in the oven for another 10-15 minutes. The cheese should be melted, but the basil should still be a bit green.
This dish is really more than the sum of its parts, and you’ll want to eat it right away — except that as soon as you sit down to do so, the nice lady from the shelter will ring the doorbell and present you with a delightful, living, breathing gift that is hellbent on peeing all over the rug. But don’t worry, your meal will still taste good at room temperature — and even if someone furry is watching you intently while you eat it.