Skillet Pizza with Eggplant and Sausage
I am pretty much an equal opportunity pizza fan. I'll take it with a thin or pillowy crust; with red, white, green or no sauce; with mozzarella or some other cheese; wood-fired, grilled or oven baked; and with pretty much whatever toppings you can think of. As long as the crust has some flavor and isn't soggy, give me the damn pizza.
That being said, I recently discovered King Arthur Baking's Crispy Cheesy Pan Pizza (their 2020 Recipe of the Year), and I am kind of obsessed. Their dough recipe is great, but you can follow their method using pretty much any pizza dough (homemade or store-bought). The key for me is really in their method. You do a final proof of your dough directly in a well-oiled cast iron skillet and then layer your ingredients (cheese first!) onto the dough and just toss the thing in a preheated oven. Because the cast iron isn't preheated, it heats up as you're baking the pizza, and you end up with this amazingly crispy-yet-pillowy crust into which that first layer of cheese just melts. Not to mention the cracklingly crunchy cheesy edges.... Yummmmm.
So, what follows is my take on the original King Arthur recipe, using my own dough and some of my favorite toppings. I highly encourage riffing on the toppings selection using whatever sounds good to you.
One note: Even if you're using store-bought pizza dough, this recipe does require a little bit of planning ahead since you need to let your dough rest in the skillet for about 2 hours before baking. So unless you're working from home this might not be a weeknight meal.
Skillet Pizza with Eggplant and Sausage
Makes one 12-inch pizza with a relatively thick crust (about 1 inch) or two 10-inch pizzas with slightly thinner but still pillowy crusts
Extra virgin olive oil
1 batch of homemade or store-bought pizza dough
8 ounces shredded mozzarella
2 tablespoons Italian Countryside Spice Blend
8 ounces sweet or spicy Italian sausage, casings removed if using links
8-10 fairytale eggplants (or 2 Japanese eggplants or 1 medium Italian eggplant)
1/2 cup homemade or store-bought marinara or pizza sauce
1 big handful of fresh spinach
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
About 2 hours before you want to eat, place about 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in your 12-inch cast iron skillet (or split it between two 10-inch skillets) and use your fingers to rub it all over the bottom and up the sides of the skillet. Turn your pizza dough out into the oiled skillet and turn to coat it in olive oil. Use your fingers to spread the dough out to cover the entire skillet. Cover the skillet with a clean, dry towel and allow to rest.
About 45 minutes before you want to eat, preheat a grill or grill pan to medium-high heat. Preheat oven to 450F with a rack placed in the lower third of the oven.
In a medium pan, brown the sausage, breaking it into small pieces, until fully cooked through. Transfer to a plate or bowl lined with a paper towel and set aside. Cut the tops and bottoms off of the eggplants and cut them in half lengthwise (or into 1/2-inch slices if using larger eggplants). Toss the eggplants in a tablespoon or two of olive oil so that they are coated but not soaked. Sprinkle cut sides of eggplants with about a tablespoon of Italian Countryside Spice Blend. Grill eggplants on both sides until just tender and you've got some nice grill marks. Set aside. (Note: You can absolutely cook the sausage and grill the eggplants in advance and keep them in the fridge until you're ready. They'll heat back up when you bake the pizza.) Mix the remaining Italian Countryside Spice Blend into the marinara/pizza sauce.
Uncover the skillet and use your fingers to press the dough out if it has shrunk at all in the skillet as it rested. Sprinkle about 6 ounces of the shredded cheese over the dough, covering the entire surface, including the edges. Use a spoon to drop dollops of sauce over the cheese. Don't worry about spreading it around. It will spread as the pizza bakes and the cheese melts. Next add the big handful of spinach, followed by the red onion and the sausage. Next arrange the grilled eggplant on top and finish with the remaining shredded cheese.
Place the skillet in the oven on that lower rack and bake 18-20 minutes, and then check the crust to see if it has started to develop into a nice golden brown color. If it has, move the skillet up to the top rack and continue baking until the top is bubbly and starting to brown, about 5 more minutes. If the crust isn't golden brown yet, give it another 3-5 minutes before moving it up.
Remove skillet from oven and use a spatula to transfer pizza to a cutting board. Slice into 6-8 slices and enjoy!
Suggested Wine Pairing: With this combination of toppings, I definitely recommend a red wine, especially an earthy Pinot Noir, like this Two Sisters Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara County.