When is a pizza not a pizza? When it's a pissaladière! This French cousin to the pizza shares a round, thin and crisp flatbread crust with the Italian-American treat, but the resemblance pretty much stops there.
You'll find neither cheese nor tomatoes on the traditional pissaladière, which replaces the Italian-style toppings with a thick bed of caramelized onions decorated with anchovies and olives.
You could call it an onion tart, but to me that terminology describes something more, well, quiche-like. This version, which I don't think strays terribly far from the Provencal original, remains recognizably pizza-like, but adds a distinct French accent.
It doesn't take a huge amount of effort, although as with any recipe that involves making bread, it requires advance preparation. I started this procedure around 4:30 p.m. and had dinner on at 7, with much of the time spent ignoring the bread dough as it rose quietly in the background. You could make it even faster by adapting the quick pizza dough featured in the FoodLetter last March 14, "Three quick pizzas,"
1. First, make the dough. It's best to weigh flour for bread-making if you can, but if you prefer, measure 1 1/2 cups from the bag, taking care not to pack the flour down.
2. If you have "instant" yeast, which I recommend for speed and convenience, you can make the dough quickly in a food processor. Put all the flour in the processor bowl with the steel blade and add the salt, sugar and instant yeast. Pulse briefly to mix, then start pouring the warm water down through the feed tube. When you've put in about half of it, add the tablespoon of olive oil; continue processing as you add more water, taking care at this point to add just a little at a time. As soon as the dough forms a ball that rides on the processor blade, stop adding water even if you haven't used it all.
3. If you're using traditional dry or cake yeast, put the yeast into 1/2 cup of the warm water, stir, and set it aside for a few moments until it starts to bubble. Then proceed as above with the food processor or use a mixing bowl, adding the yeast liquid to the flour, then the oil, and finally additional water sufficient to make a firm dough.
4. Either way, take the dough, put it on a lightly floured board or counter top, and knead it briefly. (You'll need very little additional kneading with the processor method.) Form the finished dough into a ball, put it in a bowl lightly greased with olive oil; cover the bowl with a dish towel and set it aside in a warm place to rise until it's roughly doubled in size, an hour to 90 minutes or so.
5. While the dough is rising, prepare the toppings. Chop the onions coarsely (I like an Indian technique, in which you cut each onion in half across its "equator," then chop it vertically into thin slices. This results in a mixture of smaller and larger pieces that add texture to the finished dish). Peel the garlic cloves and slice them into paper-thin rounds. Drain and separate the anchovies, and pit the olives (if you didn't buy them pitted) and cut them in half.
6. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a sautee pan or skillet, and put in the onions and garlic. Stir to coat, add the thyme and salt and pepper to taste. (Be cautious about the salt, as the anchovies and olives will add more.) Then cook covered over very low heat for 15 to 30 minutes or more, until the onions are very soft. Remove the cover and turn up the heat a bit, continuing to cook until the onions are golden brown and reduced to almost a rough puree.
7. When the dough has risen, preheat your oven to 400F. Punch down the dough, put it on a lightly floured bread board or counter top, and press it out into a thin round, just like pizza. Put it on a cookie sheet or pizza pan (or, if you prefer, on a "peel" or other flat surface for transfer to a heated pizza stone), and spread the onions evenly over its surface. Then decorate with the anchovies and olives. (If you want to take the time to do it, a geometrical "checkerboard" arrangement as showin in the picture in our HTML/graphics edition is traditional; but it tastes the same if you simply spread the ingredients evenly over the top!) Finally, yes, you can omit the anchovies if you want a vegetarian dinner or if you simply can't stand the little critters. But use them if you can; they do add a distinct character to the dish.
8. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the edges of the crust are golden brown. (You'll note that this baking temperature is a bit lower than for pizza, and the cooking time longer. This is to avoid burning the onions.)
WINE MATCH: This wine-friendly dish would work well with either a crisp, full white or a fruity red, and its ethnic style suggests a wine from the Mediterranean. A Provence or Southern Italian white would be fine; so would a Beaujolais, a lighter-style Provence red or even a Chianti. I went in a slightly different direction, though, with Domaine Ostertag 2001 Alsace Riesling Vignobles D'Epfig, and found its aromatic nature stood up well to the robust flavors of the dish.
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Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.
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