Roasted Tomato, Eggplant and Smoked Mozzarella Pizza
1 medium eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut crosswise in 2 pieces
Proof the yeast for 5 to 10 minutes in 1 cup of warm water and a pinch of sugar, until the yeast dissolves and the liquid begins to appear creamy.
3/4 pound plum tomatoes, halved
2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sugar
4 teaspoons yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, washed well, spun
dry, and chopped coarse
1/4 pound smoked mozzarella, grated coarse
(about 1 cup)
For Pizza Dough
1 tablespoon dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 2/3 cups warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
7 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole-wheat or rye flour
1 tablespoon coarse salt or 2 teaspoons fine salt
Add the remaining water and 1 1/2 to 2 cups flour, including the whole-wheat or rye flour. Beat this well (a hundred strokes) until it's smooth and soupy, and then let it stand for 10 to 15 minutes, until it's bubbly and swollen. Add the salt and olive oil and proceed to stir in the rest of the flour by the cupful until the dough is stiff but still slightly sticky. Tip: Stir the dough in the same direction so that the gluten strands retain a smooth, consistent pattern.
When the dough begins to form a cohesive mass that's thick enough to hold its shape, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and let it rest. Meanwhile, clean and oil the bowl. Knead the dough, turning it clockwise by quarter turns and sprinkling a little flour on top and on the surface underneath before folding it over. Add just enough flour so the dough doesn't stick and tear. (A dough scraper is invaluable for lifting the mass of dough cleanly from the counter.) Kneading takes about 5 to 8 minutes. When the dough is smooth, springy, and pliant -- earlobe-soft -- return it to the oiled bowl, cover it with a damp cloth, and let it rise until doubled. This generally takes between 35 and 45 minutes at 70 to 75 degrees.
After the first rise, you can form the crust, assemble the pizza and bake it immediately or punch the dough down and let it rise again before baking. This doesn't substantially change the resulting crust, but it gives you more time if you need it before baking the pizza. Or, you can refrigerate the dough for several hours or up to two days. In this case, give it a final punch down after it has chilled for about 40 minutes and put it in a plastic bag.
By letting the dough mature in the refrigerator, the gluten ripens and relaxes and the dough becomes less sticky, and will stretch farther when working with it. With this refrigerated dough, you can obtain a thin, crisp crust, or a thick, chewy crust, depending on how thin you roll or stretch the dough when forming it, and on whether or not you allow it to warm up and rise before baking it. A thick crust made from chilled dough is likely to have larger air bubbles and be less delicate and more chewy--rather like the difference between regular and sourdough breads.
Three options for crusts:
*For a light, risen crust, use a freshly made dough, although you can use a chilled dough. For the highest, puffiest results, add 2 teaspoons more yeast to the recipe and use the dough within three hours of making it. For a finer-textured crust, simply roll it out thinner and let it rise to the same height. Let the dough rise until it's puffy, and fingerprints disappear when dough is pressed. This takes about 10 minutes with freshly made, room-temperature dough, or about 15 minutes with chilled dough.
*A thick, chewy crust can be made either with fresh or chilled dough. Stretch or press the dough to about 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick and let it rise just slightly. Whether you'll end up with a thick and chewy crust or a light and risen one depends on how thick you roll it out and how high you let it rise.
*For a thin, crisp crust, use dough straight out of the refrigerator. Roll it out as thin as you want it, usually about 1/4 inch, and get it into the oven within minutes, before it has a chance to rise.
Assemble the pizza on an oiled, rimless cookie sheet. A third of the recipe will make a 12- to 16-inch round crust, depending on how thin you roll or spread it. Lightly form the dough into a ball and stretch it out. First, hold it vertically by one edge and turn it in your hands, allowing gravity to stretch it as you turn it. Then lay it on the cookie sheet and press out the dough, starting from the center. Be careful not to tear or poke holes in the dough. A floured rolling pin is handy for rolling out thin crusts. If the dough springs back, let it rest a minute or two, or chill it in the fridge, and then continue to work it out.
Arrange the toppings, usually three to four items, so that they don't overlap. Apply the cheese a little more than halfway through the baking process. By adding the cheese when the crust is just lightly browned, you can tell when the topping is sufficiently cooked and also avoid overbrowned, leathery cheese and an undercooked crust. Those toppings that don't need much cooking, like blanched spinach or asparagus, also go on at half-time, along with the cheese
Bake pizza in a very hot oven, 475 degrees, on a heavy baking sheets and on a baking stone. Check the pizza during baking and rotate it if it appears to be cooking unevenly. Lift the crust to see how it's cooking underneath. If the bottom is still pale while the top seems almost done, turn the oven temperature down and leave the pizza in longer.
When the crust is lightly browned and the toppings are cooked, sprinkle on the cheeses. Then bake the pizza an additional 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. By this time, the crust will be perfectly done.
Make the pizza: Preheat oven to 450°F. and very lightly grease a large baking sheet.
Cut smaller eggplant piece into 1/3-inch-thick slices. Spread eggplant slices in one layer on half of baking sheet and season with salt. Put remaining eggplant piece and all but 2 tomato halves on second half of baking sheet. Roast vegetables in middle of oven 15 minutes, or until eggplant slices are tender, and transfer eggplant slices to a plate. Roast remaining vegetables 15 minutes more, or until eggplant piece is very tender. Remove baking sheet from oven and cool vegetables slightly.
Scoop out flesh from eggplant piece into a food processor and purée with roasted tomatoes, unroasted tomato, vinegar, sugar, and salt to taste. Sauce and sliced eggplant may be made 1 day ahead and kept separately, covered and chilled.
On a work surface sprinkled with 1 teaspoon cornmeal roll out 1 piece of dough into a 12- by 6-inch oval and transfer to a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining cornmeal and dough, ending up with 2 ovals on each of 2 baking sheets.
Increase temperature to 500°F.
Spread sauce on dough ovals, leaving a 1/2-inch border around edge of each pizza. Arrange eggplant slices on sauce and sprinkle pizzas with basil and mozzarella.
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