Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pizza Pugliese and Baked White Eggplant

Have you ever wondered why eggplants are named so?  Well, the first hint to ease your curiosity is that they are not always purple.  Some eggplants are pink, some striped pink and white, and others pure white.  Another thing to keep in mind is the shape.  Not all eggplants are oblong.  When you have a look at the variety pictured in this photo (courtesy of Susan at Fatfree Vegan), not much is left to the imagination.  Behold the Egg Plant!  The kind that I used in my recipe, however, was more akin to the eggplants found in this link here on the right:
White eggplant tends to be less seedy and softer than the big purple variety many of us are used to.  I can tell you quite simply that in this baked dish I prepared, they were rendered so smooth and delicate, that Lissa and I were both brought to but one descriptor: butter.  Velvety and rich, I don't know that I have ever had an eggplant dish that brought me so much enjoyment.

                    photo by Susan V.

I'll tell you what I did with the eggplant in a bit but before I get too ahead of myself, let me say a few words about the accompanying pizza.  First off, we must talk crust.  I bought my crust (made of RICE FLOUR) at the local Whole Foods Market.  Much to my chagrin, my body and gluten don't seem to get along too well-I apparently have what is known as a gluten intolerance.  I often simply play ignorant and apologize to my belly later (can't we all just get my tummy?!).  When I do choose to listen to my body, eating out is surely more of a challenge than cooking at home.  Still, certain products are difficult to replicate well.  Often I rely on the experts–bakeries and food companies who have patiently perfected combinations and ratios–rather than experimenting myself.  For example, if you want gluten-free bread, nothing beats Udi's.  I finally found a decent gluten-free pasta from Bionaturae, Arrowhead Mills makes a great GF pancake mix (see my post on yummy pancakes), and Glutino makes one hell of a cracker.  Alas, I had not found a good pizza crust, dry mix or pre-made...until, I saw this crust at Whole Foods.  I had a
feeling it was going to be good the minute I laid eyes on it and indeed it was.  I am of the opinion that pizza crust should be thin and crispy like it has always been in its birthplace, and this crust is just that.  It is more dense than wheat-based crust, but it is the best that I have tried.  So, what did I do with this fabulous rice crust?  I made Pizza Pugliese.  Puglia is the heel on the "boot" of Italy, a place I have not been but would love to visit.  I have seen different recipes for Pugliese pizza, some showcasing olives and capers, others potatoes, but this version is made with caciocavallo cheese, caramelized onions, and lots of freshly ground black pepper.  I couldn't actually find caciocavallo, so I substituted an aged provolone (a similar product) which worked beautifully.  Caramelizing onions does require some patience, but it is well worth the wait.  It is just a matter of stirring a big pot of onions until the sugars therein caramelize, which could take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.  The resulting sweetness of the onions contrasts beautifully with the sharp tang of the cheese, and the bite of the black pepper...mmm, veramente delizioso! 

Back to the eggplant.  What I created was basically an eggplant parmigiano without the parmigiano (I figured we had enough cheese on the pizza).  I lightly fried slices of the eggplant in a little olive oil and set them aside.  I then sauteed a big pile of mushrooms (I used crimini but I'm sure wild mushrooms would be fantastic) and some minced garlic and set that aside.  The eggplant was stacked in a ceramic loaf pan with alternating layers of tomato sauce and mushrooms, eggplant, tomato, mushroom, eggplant and so on.  I had preheated my oven to 350° and placed the pan, covered with foil, inside for 15-20 minutes.  I gave it an extra 5-10 minutes sans foil then brought it out to cool slightly.  A nice slice on each plate, along with a couple slices of pizza and some arugula (lightly dressed with olive oil and salt), and you have a lovely meal.  Buon appetito!

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