It seems like all I ever do lately is complain about the heat? Well, that’s because it’s HOT here, people! Really, really hot. And humid. Hot and humid is miserable. Thus, I am miserable too. Hot, cranky and miserable! Yes, I know it could be worse. The grass is always greener and all that. But in this case, the grass actually is greener somewhere else. Because it is so damn hot, our grass is mostly brown these days – brown and crunchy and sad. I know that compared to much of the country, this place is considered a paradise. But, living in paradise does have its drawbacks.
Heat makes me tired – and lazy. I don’t feel like going anywhere or doing anything, including cooking. Except for making ice cream. Does making ice cream count as cooking?
But still, we have to eat, and I can only get away with heat-related cooking reprieves for just so long. So, I’ve been resorting to lots of salads and other quick dishes that don’t require a lot of effort on my part.
One of the easiest ways to get a meal on my table in a short amount of time is to make pizza. All you need is the dough, a stocked fridge and some imagination. And, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I buy my dough. Sure, I know how to make it from scratch, and I sometimes do – when it’s cold outside, and I’m in a good mood. In fact, my favorite recipe can be found here. But, I’m sure not going to go to all of that time and trouble making homemade pizza dough in the dead of summer, especially when I can buy some great stuff at several local pizzerias and bakeries. I can even find an acceptable product at my neighborhood supermarket.
Pizza is a lifesaver because you can put just about anything on it – even leftovers - and it will almost always taste good. I’ve made a lot of pretty great pizza using some rather unconventional toppings, like leftover pulled pork, picadillo and even fruit salad. Last Friday night, I think I created my most interesting and delicious concoction yet, and it all started with a leftover container of Chinese takeout.
I’d been having one of those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, and all I wanted to do was go home, turn the a/c down to 68 degrees and crawl into a cool corner. I would rather have chewed on broken glass than go back out and sit in a restaurant. So, I called an Italian bakery that was on my way home and asked if they had any pizza dough left. They did, and I swung by to pick up a few blobs.
After I got home, I foraged around in my kitchen to find something to put on my pizza. I decided to make one pie with the last of my homemade ricotta and some tomatoes from my garden.
Coming up with the fixings for the other pie wasn’t so easy. I guess I hadn’t been shopping in longer than I’d thought. And then, I spied a small container of Szechuan Eggplant with Garlic Sauce leftover from the night before. There wasn’t enough to make a meal out of, but there was plenty to top a pizza with. So that’s just what I did.
I’ll admit, I was a little concerned about how that pizza would turn out. But OMG! It was out. of. this. world. Seriously! Mr. SGCC and I couldn’t stop eating it. In the oven, the sauce thickened and the eggplant and onions got all melty and caramelized. It had a subtle sweetness that cut right through the sharpness of the garlic. Who would have ever guessed that a container of half-eaten Chinese takeout could be turned into such an amazing pizza? Color me gobsmacked!
I’m leaving you with not so much a recipe, as a guide. Don’t feel obligated to run out to your corner Chinese place for Eggplant in Garlic Sauce. That is, unless you really love Eggplant in Garlic Sauce. In that case, go right ahead. If you don’t, however, any number of different dishes would work just as well on a pizza, like Moo Shu Pork or Beef and Broccoli. (I wouldn’t try it with wonton soup, though. Just sayin’.) It doesn’t even have to be Chinese. I’ll bet Butter Chicken or Saag Aloo from your favorite Indian restaurant would be great options as well.
I suppose that the moral of this story is that we need to keep our minds open to new things, especially when it comes to food. Sometimes flavors that we would never think of mixing together can be a fantastic combination. And also, that no matter how crappy your day has been, a fabulous pizza can put it all in perspective.
Chinese Takeout Pizza
The method that I use to make pizza is from Melissa Clark via the New York Times. It works well for me, and can be found here. Of course, if you have your own favorite way to do it, have at it.
1 one pound ball of pizza dough, homemade or store bought
2-3 tablespoons cornmeal or flour
Olive oil for brushing
1-2 cups Szechuan eggplant in garlic sauce or leftover Chinese takeout of your choice
Thai basil leaves for garnish
Preheat oven to 500 F. If using a pizza stone, place it on the center rack of the oven and heat for 1 hour. If using a baking sheet or pizza pan, do the same, but only heat for 30 minutes.
Lightly flour your hands and a clean work surface. Stretch or roll out your pizza dough into a 12-inch round. Place it on a pizza peel or the back of a baking sheet that has been sprinkled with some cornmeal or flour. Very lightly brush the dough with olive oil, and place the eggplant mixture on top, leaving a 1 to 2-inch outside border.
Slide the pizza onto the pizza stone, baking sheet or pizza pan and bake for about 5-7 minutes. Then, turn on the broiler and broil for about 2-3 minutes. Keep your eye on it to make sure it doesn’t burn. The top should be golden brown, puffed up and a little blistered.
Using tongs, remove pizza from the oven and slide it onto a pizza peel, pan or platter. Cut and enjoy!
Makes one 12-inch pizza.