Eggplant Pan Pizza
Although it's really a fruit, eggplant is still one of my favorite vegetables. Tom Brady might not eat it because it's a nightshade and therefore causes "inflammation," but I'm not a professional athlete so I don't mind.
Anyways, as much as I love Eggplant Parmesan, sometimes I think the crisp beauty of the breaded eggplant gets lost underneath all the sauce and cheese. In my opinion, breaded eggplant is at its best when I can truly taste the crunchiness of the breading (made even crunchier with panko breadcrumbs!), so that's why I love my breaded eggplant atop a pizza. The key is to slice the eggplant thin; otherwise you'll have too much topping, and your dough will run the risk of not baking through all the way.
I prefer instant yeast, but I have also included an alternative pizza dough recipe (scroll down) for those of you who prefer using using active dry yeast. See note here on instant yeast versus active dry yeast.
Eggplant Pan Pizza
This recipe can be adapted in different ways. Some variations (all delicious): in place of the roasted grape tomatoes, substitute pesto, shredded mozzarella, or dollops of goat cheese.
1 recipe tangzhong pan pizza dough - see recipe here
1 recipe breaded eggplant (see recipe below)
1 recipe roasted grape tomatoes - recipe here
~ 1½ - 1 ¾ cups tomato sauce - recipe here
Parmigiano-Reggiano or other Parmesan cheese
Remove the plastic wrap from your rested pizza dough. Top your pizza with tomato sauce (my recipe for sauce is here), arrange eggplant slices on top, then spread roasted grape tomatoes on top of the eggplant slices. Top with a grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake in a preheated 450°F oven for ~15 minutes. I like to bake the pizza on the bottom rack as it gives the pizza bottom a nice crust. I move the pizza to a higher rack if the bottom crust is over browning.
When selecting an eggplant, choose one that's heavy for its size because the heavier eggplants contain fewer seeds (which run bitter). The eggplant can be made early in the day or the day before. If you refrigerate it overnight, just reheat it briefly before putting it on the pizza so that it re-crisps.
The Parmesan cheese adds a crunchy flavor to the breading, and the perfect ratio of panko to Parmesan is 2:1 by weight. I recommend freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (if you use pre-grated cheese, there will be a settling period and the cheese volume will be about half of what the recipe calls for). And please don't use Kraft's "Parmesan cheese."
1 medium sized eggplant - peeled and sliced into circles that are ¼" thick
1 cup panko breadcrumbs (3 ounces)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (1.5 ounces). I recommend Parmigiano-Reggiano
Flour for dredging (about ½ cup)
2 large eggs
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons butter - optional but helps the browning process
Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste
Peel the eggplant, but leave a few stripes of the purple skin for structural purposes. Slice the eggplant into thin circles, ~¼"—½" thick.
Optional: remove excess water from eggplant... Sprinkle kosher salt onto the bottom of a flat container. Layer the eggplant, sprinkling salt between each layer. Don't worry about over salting; you'll rinse it all off later. Weigh the eggplant down with another flat bottomed container and additional weight. Let sit for ~3-6 hours. There should be about ¼ cup of liquid extracted from the eggplant. Discard the liquid and rinse the eggplant, lay on paper towels and blot to dry.
Preheat oven to 450°F. Prepare dredging station with three containers: Container #1: flour with ¾ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper... Container #2: beaten eggs with ¼ teaspoon salt and a pinch of ground black pepper... Container #3: Panko, Parmigiano-Reggiano, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper. While dredging your eggplant, heat half sheet pan with ¼ cup olive oil in oven (and be wary of smoking oil). Lay the breaded eggplant on a rack or pan until all are dredged. Remove the hot pan from the oven, being cautious not to spill the oil. Place cubes of butter in the hot pan and allow to melt. Lay the breaded eggplant in the pan in a single layer. Flip so that both sides are oiled. Bake in a hot oven for ~45-60 minutes, and flip occasionally so that both sides brown evenly (also rearrange the slices because ovens have hot spots). You may need to add more oil during the cooking process because eggplant is like a sponge when it cooks, so watch carefully. All ovens cook differently, but you want your eggplant to come out crispy and browned. Remove slices to paper towel lined rack or pan. The eggplant will absorb any remaining oil if allowed to cool in the pan.