Ever since I went to college nearby, V&T Restaurant and Pizzeria in the Morningside Heights section of Manhattan has made my ideal of the eggplant pizza.
Covered with stretchy mozzarella and loads of deep-fried eggplant slices (probably the same ones they used for parmigiana), it is crisp, gooey, creamy and without any of the pizza pretensions that have become the norm in our Neapolitan margherita-obsessed city.
But, even though I love V&T’s eggplant pie from the bottom of its charred crust to the top of its oil-slicked cheese, it’s not something I want to recreate at home. That delicate balance of deep-fried eggplant and homemade pizza dough is best left to seasoned professionals.
Instead, when a craving for eggplant pizza strikes, I take a simpler path, and make focaccia.
The differences between focaccia and pizza are fluid, but most flatbread lovers agree that focaccia dough has a lot more olive oil than pizza dough, yielding a fluffier, richer crumb.
So it goes in this recipe, in which thin eggplant slices are layered over a puffy, pillowy base that’s crisp at the edges. What it lacks in crackling chewiness, it makes up for it in tenderness and a savory olive oil flavor, which works nicely with the eggplant and olive topping.
As for that topping, not only do I dispense with deep-frying the eggplant, I don’t bother cooking it at all before shingling it over the dough. A quick toss with salt and hot, garlic-infused olive oil flavors the eggplant pieces and gives them a head start, softening them a bit before they reach the oven.
Naturally, when there’s a pan of olive oil and garlic on the stove, simmering away with some minced olives for depth, I can’t resist tossing in a few anchovies, too. It’s my nature, and there’s just no use fighting it. But if it’s not your thing, just skip the anchovies entirely. Salt lovers can increase the amount of minced olives as they see fit; another tablespoon or two should do it.
Serve the focaccia either warm from the oven, or at room temperature. I like to smear slices with fresh ricotta, which is milky and gentle next to the slippery, pungent eggplant, and lighter than mozzarella on a pizza.
Then, when I do want to go all out, V&T is still just a subway ride away.