Week 23: Deep Fried – Fried Eggplant, Basil & Pepperoni Pizza

Having less and less time to adequately prepare for these weekly endeavors, a quick peek in the fridge was all the inspiration needed for this week’s deep fried challenge. In the O’Bryan household, we have a tendency to pick up a plump eggplant with ambitions of transforming the shiny beast into an Ottolenghi masterpiece. More often, we find ourselves dumping a blotched and festering limp vegetable corpse into the trash. This is all to say that we have yet to find the way to embrace their presence in our fridge. And we may have found the way.

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Fried eggplant on pizza is no genius idea of mine. Its true origin story remains a mystery to this blogger as she hasn’t the time nor the inclination to seek out any backstory, no matter how grateful I should be for the abundance of information available at my fingertips.

My first personal encounter, one that I remember quite fondly due to timing (I had just landed a job, albeit a shitty one, that would secure the path of my now career) and the tasty, tasty combination of toppings, was one that came recommended by the Bar Basic staff: fried eggplant, pepperoni, basil and garlic atop a large red pie. I went gaga for this shit. So here goes my attempt at recreating a super built-up cherished moment of my recent past. What could go wrong?

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After slicing up an eggplant to a consistenly moderate thickness, the slices were breaded in a panko and Italian crumb mix, the blend of the two resulting from a petty bout of indecision.

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Using a combination of high-heat oils, as I hadn’t the foresight to buy enough of any one kind, the breaded eggplant slices took turns crisping up in the pot.

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A rather sizable batch was produced, enough to feed three large pizzas as each pizza could barely take on more than 7 or 8. Any leftovers stayed rather well. If they never make it onto crust, they were reheated in the oven with tomato sauce and cheese on top for a quickie eggplant parmesana.

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While the original inclusion of garlic was mostly ignored (aside from the generous heap of garlic found in the tomato sauce), a few dollops of ricotta here and there made up for its absence with creamy, textured bites.

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After some fussing around with pairings, Barolo stepped up as the winner of the bunch. This 2006 Marchesi di Barolo from Piedmonte, Italy had just the right structure of tannin and acidity to tackle the richness here, but then the deeply-resonant tart fruits provided a great backdrop for all the savory notes to play off of.

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I loved this pairing. I loved this wine and the pizza and the whole experience of making it and eating it. This was so fantastic I wanted to die. Instead, I snapped some photos and obsessed over new angles and lighting. The work didn’t really pay off but the pizza itself was worth all the effort.

 

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It was so good, I actually made two.

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As for things that could go wrong? Nothing did. This was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever made. It will be one I continue to make for as long as I have eggplant in my refrigerator, which turns out to be more often than needed. It’s time to embrace their ever-presence.

eggplant love

Week 17: Medieval – Spiced Almond & Pomegranate Cornish Hen Pizza

To kick off Season 6 of Game of Thrones, Reddit’s r/52weeksofcooking has called for a medieval style dish to sustain us through the first episode airing tonight. The pizza constructed to fulfill this requirement began with a 16th century sauce recipe designed to go with partridge or hen. The spice-heavy sauce calls for flavors of cinnamon, ginger, pomegranate and white almonds.

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The ingredients are pummeled into a mildly gritty texture to recall the days without blenders.

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A cornish hen takes the leading role of this pizza. Before roasting, a savory mixture of spices featuring cumin, allspice, paprika and cinnamon is rubbed over the skin for extra flavor. During the cooking and resting period, the crust is prepared.

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While the sauce does not win any pretty awards, it tastes like wintertime. A flurry of ricotta and mozzarella, both fair game cheeses according to White Oak Historical Society, are added for a bit of extra heartiness.

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When the hen is done resting, the thighs are sliced and added to the pizza with their crispy skin accompanying. With the meat cooked, the crust is crisped up in an oven of 550°F.

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The legs are set aside for presentation purposes. This pizza is ready to be spanked on the bottom and sent out to the hungry masses for devouring.

 

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To step these slices up from peasant food to slices fit for noblemen, a quick sprinkle of sliced almonds and pomegranate seeds really jazzes up the presentation.

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There is no better way to wash down a medieval experience, especially one gushing with cinnamon and spice, than a dainty chalice of cider (Eric Bordelet, Normandy, France), which also happens to make a great drinking game accompaniment at 4% abv.

And since nobody ever seems to find the gifs tucked away in each post:

game of thrones

Week 16: Root to Stem – Shaved Asparagus & Ricotta Pizza with Stem-Infused Whole Wheat Crust

This week is a challenge that speaks directly to the most wasteful aspects of my cooking. While I do my best to make stocks out of bones and stems to feed my soup-making habits, my creativity stops there. The asparagus used to top this week’s pizza will find their cheesy ricotta home built above a crust interlaced with nutrients leached from their usually-discarded stems.

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The process was as simple as using a stock created from the stems to substitute for the water used in the crust.

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From here, regular pizza-making resumed. The yeast frolicked in the warm asparagus water that made up their new home and went about business as usual.

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With extra nutrients fortifying the dough, I decided to make a whole wheat flour to create as healthy a pizza package as I could stand without stripping away the essentials.

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Shaving the asparagus was both equal parts time-consuming and oddly-satisfying. There are core portions that could not be shaved down due to mechanics, thus they were chopped up for additional texture.

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The cheese was a simple mixture of ricotta, lemon olive oil, lemon zest and lemon juice.

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The lemon olive oil can really help make any citrus flavors pop. I used it as the base sauce for the rest of the flavors to play off of.

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At 550F, pizza doesn’t take much longer than 8-10 minutes in the oven.

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The crust was perfectly chewy with a light crisp to the bottom. To keep the texture more appealing, the shavings of asparagus were each swirled into a gusty little toppings, which were admittedly rather time-consuming to stage as well.

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The effect was worth the effort.

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With a dab of coarsely-ground black pepper on top and wine nearby, these puppies were ready for quick consumption.

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The wine was a Gruner Veltiner, chosen for the qualities it would mirror in the pizza, such as the waxy vegetal notes, peppery aromas and the overall clean style. Neither of the two survived the night.

Pauly’s slices with Old & New World wines

Pauly’s Pizza Joint is a quiet strip mall on the long, sunny stretch of Miramar Road churning out thin-crust pies and lots of personality. After much deliberation over the killer selection of by-the-slice, a slice of Buffalo Chicken Pizza and the House Pie (aka Christmas Pie) are squirreled back to the wine-pairing lair for intense observation.

pauly's pizza joint collage

The Buffalo Chicken slice is made up simply of chicken, ranch and Frank’s RedHot hot sauce, the latter acting as sauce and dominating visual effect of the pie. With each bite, the creaminess of ranch hits first moving swiftly into the nostalgic spice of Frank’s RedHot that speaks to a long history of chicken wing indulgence. Chunks of chewy meat are scattered about while a blanket of chicken lurks below in sneaky ninja ways, emerging from the crust in places that seem populated by sauce alone. The resulting effect of this chewy, savory infusion is both delightful and addicting.

pauly's riesling and buffalo

Built from the American bar food classic of buffalo wings, this pizza swings well into the non-traditional realm of pies. Its personality could not extend much further from its pairing, a mineral-driven, off-dry German Riesling (Willi Schaefer, Mosel, Graacher Domprobst, Spätlese, 2013). Aroma of crushed slate, pears and apple blossom offer contrasting flavors to the pie while generous acidity and residual sugar counterbalance the lingering spice and twangy vinegar of Frank’s RedHot. Every bite has you chasing the heat-relieving sip of sweetness that in itself is never overly cloying thanks to the one-two acidic punch that comes with a cool climate and varietal typicity.

pauly's nebbiolo & house pie

The House Pie comes topped with bacon, pepperoni, spinach, garlic and feta, earning its second title, “Christmas pie,” due to reports of it being Santa’s favorite off-season snack. Fresh out of the oven, the slice is immediately alluring with sizzling pork products forming seductive wafts that almost make you forget about wine. Almost. Such a hedonistic pizza requires an equally hedonistic wine: Palmina Nebbiolo (Santa Barbara County, 2008).

Free from strict, tradition-driven rules that make up the viticultural framework of most Old World regions, the United States is constantly tinkering with different varietals, ranging from successful grapes of other established regions to the under-appreciated and unknown. Nebbiolo stems from the first category, already secured in its reputation as it makes up 100% of Barolo and Barbaresco, some of Italy’s finest quality wines. Palmina Nebbiolo wine expresses its Italian roots with intense red berries, violets and a gritty tannic structure. While dry, the fruit is as expressive as gummy bears, giving into its New World upbringing. The wine is so tantalizingly vigorous that even the occasional zing of pepperoni spice barks but never bites at the luscious fruit bouquet. Meanwhile, the comparatively quieter spinach cuts through all the greasy meat providing a welcomed vegetal contrast while the candied garlic mirrors the sweet oak present in the wine, which lends nutmeg and vanilla bean to the finish.

Pizzeria Luigi & Temecula Zinfandel

Let’s begin the great 2015 San Diego pizza adventure with the basics: pepperoni pizza from Pizzeria Luigi, a no-fuss pizzeria often listed by locals as a favorite, paired with 2009 Reserve Primitivo from Wiens Cellars of nearby Temecula Valley. The bottle was a gift from a fellow sommelier with the sole stipulation that it could only be opened with pizza by its side. So be it.

altogether luigi and weins

Though its origins have been genetically tracked back to Croatia, Primitivo is the Italian name for the varietal we know better as Zinfandel. With this nominal borrowing, it’s not surprising to find some stylistic leanings towards the more acid-driven wines of Italy. Acid in wine is a great accompaniment to most food, especially foods high in acid themselves like tomato-based cuisine. The acidity in this Primitivo is balanced enough to stand up to hearty pizza sauce while the tannins, textured and dusty, are a perfect complement to rich cheese. Though somewhat leaner than the ass-kicking abv levels of 16% found elsewhere in California, this Zinfandel is thoroughly New World in style, driven by ripe fruit aromas and a full body. The generous heaps of dark raspberry and blackberry fruit provide a lovely, uncomplicated counterpart to every saucy bite of pizza.

It’s easy to get smitten over an abundance of sauce on a pizza, especially thin-crust, since it’s so rare to find naturally in the wild. The chewy crust holds up well under the weight of the bright, herbaceous tomato sauce so generously spread on while the pepperoni slices supply a faint but distinct spiciness. Any lengthy focus on minute details beyond this would only take away from the experience. Like the wine, this pie isn’t built for complexity. Pizzeria Luigi supplies straightforward New York style pizza relying on classic flavors without being overly complicated, which is perfect for an indulgent night of Parks & Rec in sweatpants.