2010 February: Perfect Pies

Pasquale "Pat" Bruno Jr.Giving a pizza a Mediterranean spin is as easy as saying “tomatoes, olives and anchovies.” But, then that would be giving short shrift to so many other flavors that make up the colorful portfolio of delicious Mediterranean ingredients. For example, we could paint the pizza crust with a pesto sauce and that would bring various regions of Italy into the pizza. We could next add chopped Kalamata olives and crumbled feta, so now we have added a few flavors of Greece to the pizza. And if we were to add anchovies, Spain has taken its place on the pizza. You can even add herbs –– oregano, basil, fennel — to the dough to up the flavor ante even more. I am not suggesting that those ingredients would make the best pie around, but you get where I am going here: The possibilities are endless.

So as I thought it over, I came up with a compromise –– a Sicilian Pizza, a pizza in the style of Sicily to represent the very idea of a Mediterranean pizza. Why Sicilian? Considering the fact that Sicily has seen many countries and cultures come and go over the centuries: Arab, French, Greek, Spanish — Mediterranean countries, all. And all of those countries, in one fashion or another, had an influence on the cuisine of Sicily.

Sicilian Pizza

Sicilian Pizza

This pizza might require a bit more prep work than usual, but the end result is worth it 10 times over. As you will see from the method part of this recipe, the combining and cooking of the main ingredients –– eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, etc. –– can be done well ahead and kept at room temperature (or refrigerated for later use). And then to order, it’s simply a matter of adding the rest of the toppings, with a final touch being an optional shower of grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Yield: Two 14-inch pizzas (scale up in direct proportion)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed or minced
2 cups pizza sauce or all-purpose crushed tomatoes
¼ cup Kalamata or other Greek black olive, pitted
2 tablespoons capers, drained, rinsed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 14-inch pizza shells
½ pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
Optional grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

In a large sauté pan set over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil for 1 minute. Add the eggplant and garlic. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, olives, capers and oregano. Simmer the sauce until it is reduced slightly, about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Allow the sauce to cool for at least 20 minutes (can be prepped well ahead and held).

Stretch or press the two pizza shells to suggested size. Ladle half the sauce over each shell. Divide the cheese equally between the two pizzas. Sprinkle some Parmesan over each pizza. Bake. Cool slightly before cutting.

Alternatively, the dough can be pressed into a rectangular pan and then cut into squares after baking.

Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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