The inspiration for this week’s recipe hit last Sunday night in the middle of a text-conversation with my good friend, Liana. It revolved around deep needs for wine and pizza. For the record, there is a pizza place right next door to my clinic, which is also very near my apartment. Too near. I happen to know that if I ever set foot inside the door, I will never really, fully leave again. When I was a kid in the wilds of Maine, we would make pilgrimages to the nearest “big city” — Bangor — for things we couldn’t get in our little town. Occasionally, we would go to Pizza Hut. For my brother and me, raised on things like bulgur and lentils, a trip to Pizza Hut was the equivalent of early entrance through the Pearly Gates. At that time the restaurant had a family special in which kids had unlimited access to the buffet for the price of ten cents per year of their age.
Let’s just say Pizza Hut didn’t make any money on our family. In fact, we may have zeroed out any profit for the entire day when we showed up. Something happened to my stomach, when I ate at Pizza Hut that I have never completely been able to explain. It just seemed to merge with the Cosmos and become Infinite. It became a Black Hole. My record consumption at age eleven was 15 pieces of pizza. Yes, these were regular size pieces of pizza. Yes, I was pretty regular sized, myself. No, my parents did not starve me. How on earth an eleven year old girl could consume that much pizza at one sitting is beyond me. And while I would feel extremely stuffed as we left the Hut and proceeded toward the brand-new and very exciting mall, after about an hour or so of moving around I would find myself wishing we could head back to Pizza Hut for round two.
So now you understand my trepidation about even a single visit to a pizza place that’s a few blocks away and accessible whenever I want. Particularly during a time, when I am back in school, alone studying a lot, and might be tempted to revert to habits of … say, college days. Just in case anyone else out there loves pizza but struggles with their own inner pizza demon, here’s a super simple recipe that I cannot stop making! It uses melt-in-your-mouth roasted eggplant rounds as the crust. Sate your pizza craving, and feel good too!
Pizza-Style Roasted Eggplant:
- 1 (or more!) large eggplant(s)
- olive oil
- 1 jar tomato sauce (choose one with no sugar in it!)
- Dried herbs: oregano, thyme, rosemary, basil, chili pepper …
- Shredded mozzarella or parmesan cheese
- Nutritional yeast — a vegan topping that’s nice instead of cheese
- Toppings: diced garlic, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, bell peppers, artichoke hearts, sauteed mushrooms, spinach or zucchini … you name it! I keep a package of turkey pepperoni in the fridge that is a nice touch on top of the veggies!
- Balsamic vinegar (optional)
First, cut the ends off your eggplant, and slice into rounds about 3/4 inch thick. If you have time, sprinkle some salt on each one, and let them sit in a colander for a half hour or so. This pulls out some of the juices that can taste bitter. Rinse the slices, and pat dry. (If you don’t have time for this step, I’ve honestly never noticed that it matters much at all.) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with a rim or a large baking pan with foil. Pour a few splashes of olive oil into the pan. Lay your slices out in the pan, and brush each one with olive oil. A pastry brush is helpful to have for this, but you don’t need one. You can just pour a dollop of oil on each round, and spread with your fingers. (Olive oil is great for your skin!)
Roast the eggplant until the slices are soft and just browning a tad. I like to turn them once with a spatula during the roasting. If they seem too dry, add a bit more oil. Eggplant absorbs oil like a sponge. If you want to saute other veggies to put on top, do this while the eggplant is roasting. Just toss a few handfuls of sliced mushrooms, baby spinach, etc, into a hot pan with some olive oil, and stir fry til tender. I like to add a dash of balsamic vinegar at the end. Dice up any other toppings — olives, etc.
When eggplant is done, remove from the oven, and lower the heat to 350. Cover the rounds with tomato sauce and a sprinkle of dried herbs. Add any other toppings and finish with a sprinkle of cheese. Pop back into the oven, and bake until the cheese is melted just the way you like it. This will take about 15 minutes or so. I made two batches that were vegan/paleo with pureed fresh basil/garlic & olive oil on top instead of cheese. Totally delicious! Your little “pizzas” will be extremely hot, when they come out of the oven so give them a bit of time to cool before you dig in — I’ve burnt my impatient tongue more than once on these little yummers. Mangia!