All those August eggplants, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers overwhelming your kitchen counter and weighing on your conscience have a place: Daniel Boulud’s Eggplant Like A Pizza, multi-layers of vegetables and a few herbs, topped with cheeses and baked like a pizza. It’s like a younger, funner version of ratatouille. Slice it thinly for an appetizer that says late summer better than “caprese.” Omit the flour from the fried eggplant and you have a magnificent vegetarian and gluten-free dinner.
Recommended by friend and great cook, Sophia Padnos, Cafe Boulud Cookbook, French – American Recipes for the Home Cook, by Daniel Boulud and Dorie Greenspan, is what I’m currently turning to for dinner inspiration. This is a cookbook written by a French chef who understands American homecooks; the recipes are clearly written and not difficult, but they are involved because they include details that a chef would never dismiss, like reminding you to lay baking racks down on cookie sheets so that your fried eggplant can properly cool without turning soggy.
Cafe Boulud Cookbook has wow-ed a few meals in this household already: Boulud Harissa over grilled salmon, White Gazpacho – a chilled blend of green grapes, toasted pinenuts and almonds, white bread, garlic and sherry vinegar, and now “Eggplant Like A Pizza.”
Because I wanted everyone to understand the beauty of Boulud’s and Greenspan’s well-written recipe, I have taken “Eggplant Like A Pizza” exactly from the book. But I want to add that this recipe is truly a blueprint for many possibilities. Take Boulud’s idea of using the rim of a removable springform pan as the template for stacking the vegetables; start with the fried rounds of eggplant, (Again, don’t use flour if you want it to be gluten-free.) After the eggplant, stack what you wish. I did use tomato confit, a recipe from Boulud’s book that was delicious if not also a bit involved, but I think I would use fresh cherry tomatoes the next time, just because they are so sweet and delicious right now. I may use fewer roasted peppers and more cheese next time, too. I might slide a veil of pesto in, or maybe tapenade. The premise and method is wonderful – all Boulud.
Make the pizza your own. I think it has possibilities all year round.
Daniel Boulud’s Eggplant Like A Pizza
1 – 2 medium eggplants
3 – 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, deveined, and cut into thin strips
freshly ground white pepper
1 small red onion, peeled trimmed, halved, and thinly sliced
1/2 zucchini, scrubbed, trimmed, and cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds
1/2 yellow squash, scrubbed, trimmed, and cut into 1/4 inch think rounds
2 cups flavorless oil, such as grape-seed or vegetable or deep frying
flour for dredging
5 leaves basil, torn into pieces
1 roasted red pepper, cut into thin strips
1 roasted yellow bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 tablespoon finely chopped Italian parsley leaves
12 pieces tomato confit or drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, quartered
1 head roasted garlic, garlic pushed out of the peel
12 Nicoise olives, pitted
1 tablespoon finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
Peel one of the eggplants and cut it into 1/8 inch thick rounds. (Boulud uses a mandoline, but says a knife works, too.) You’ll need about 20 slices for the pizza, so count what you’ve got to determine whether or not you need to use the second eggplant. Sprinkle the slices on both sides with salt and place them between paper towels. Set aside for 45 minutes to release some of the bitterness.
While the eggplant is resting, saute the vegetables: warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a small saute pan or skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the green pepper strips, season with salt and pepper, and cook, just until the pepper is tender but not colored, 5 – 8 minutes. Spoon the pepper onto a small plate and set aside. Put the pan back over the heat and, if necessary, add a little more olive oil. Warm the oil, then add the red onion slices to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and cook the onion until it too is tender but not colored. Set the onion aside on another small plate and repeat with the zucchini and then the yellow squash, adding only as much oil as you need to keep the vegetables from sticking. (The vegetables can be sauteed a few hours ahead and kept covered at room temperature or in the refrigerator.)
For the “crust:” Pat the salted eggplant dry between paper towels. Place a rack over a baking pan and put it close to the stovetop. Pour the 2 cups of oil into a deep saucepan and put the pan over medium-high heat. Dredge the eggplant slices a few at a time in the flour, tapping off the excess flour. When the oil is hot (about 350 degrees) fry the eggplant in batches – don’t crowd the pan – just until the pieces are golden at the edges and lightly crispy. Lift the slices out of the oil with a slotted spatula and onto the rack to drain.
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil. Brush the inside of a 10 inch cake ring or the ring (not the base) of a springform pan with oil. Place the ring on the baking sheet and brush the area inside the ring very lightly with oil.
Start constructing the pizza by arranging a layer of fried eggplant slices, each slice slightly overlapping the previous slice, within the cake ring. Top with another layer of eggplant – this makes the crust. Season with salt and pepper, and scatter over the basil leaves. Lay the red and yellow pepper strips over the basil and sprinkle these with the parsley. Next, arrange a layer of yellow squash and zucchini rounds and lay the green pepper strips over the squash. Top this with the pieces of tomato and roasted garlic cloves. Finish with the sauteed onions and the black olives. Dust the pizza with the grated cheese and scatter the feta evenly over the pie. Drizzle with olive oil and slice the pan into the oven.
Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until the pizza is very hot and the cheese is melted. Remove the pan from the oven. Take off the cake ring, and using two broad spatulas, lift the pizza onto a cutting board or serving plate.
Cut into wedges.