Sunday, October 14, 2012

On the lookout for a fantastic out-of-the-ordinary hors d’oeurves?

We don’t entertain all that often, but it seems that whenever we do, we spend the most time trying to figure out what to serve while we’re sitting around before dinner. The ideal thing to serve is something that doesn’t need last-minute cooking, so when everyone arrives we can just bring the hors d’oeurves out of the kitchen.

We have some tried and true recipes, but one can’t keep serving those to the same guests. Our grilled mussels are always a favorite, but they can’t be made in winter or when the weather is wet.

A number of years ago, we were browsing through cookbooks looking for something new for an upcoming dinner party when we happened across something really quite fantastic in Lulu’s Provençal Table a source of a number of our favorite recipes – including grilled mussels (moules à la Catalane) and ratatouille – two recipes we’ve already featured on AMFAS.

Today’s recipe is called pissaladière, something best described as a French version of what the Italians call a “white pizza”, since it has no tomatoes. The dish seems to have originated in southern France, and it’s often found as street food, being served room temperature from carts around markets.

At first reading, the ingredients seem a bit of an odd fit in the same dish, but believe me, the combination is inspired, and as long as your guests appreciate anchovies, I guarantee they won’t fail to be impressed – and surprised. The tender, buttery crust and the sweetness of the almost-dissolving onions work perfectly against the salty jolt of the anchovies and the fruitiness of the olives.

Often pissaladière is made with a bread dough much like that used in Italian pizza, but Lulu’s recipe uses a pâte brisée which I think works better with the flavor and texture of the onion base. You need to only use salt-packed anchovies for this. We once made it with those filleted anchovies that come packed in oil in little tins, and frankly, the result was very disappointing. The choice of olives is also important and niçoise seems the best choice here.

Learn from our mistakes. Stick to what the recipe calls for to avoid disappointment! You may have to work a bit harder to source the exact ingredients, but it will prove worth it. Salt-packed anchovies can be found at good fish monger, especially those with a more southern European bent. The nice thing is that they keep practically forever in a tightly closed container in your fridge. (We generally keep a half-dozen on hand.) Niçoise olives can be found at any shop specializing in good olives. Do yourself a favor and buy pitted ones if you can – unless you have a good olive pitter.

Another thing: pissaladière is best when freshly made and served warm-ish, but I think you’ll discover that’s not a problem since it usually disappears rapidly.

Serves 8

2 cups all purpose flour
¾ tsp salt
10 Tbs cold butter, diced
4 Tbs cold water (approx.)
4 Tbs olive oil
2 lbs sweet white onions, thinly sliced
8 whole anchovies, rinsed and patted dry, then filleted
½ cup Niçoise olives, pitted
olive oil

1. Sift the flour and salt together into a mixing bowl, add the diced butter. Rapidly crumble the butter and flour together between your thumbs and fingertips. Above all, don’t overwork the pastry. Add enough water to gather the pastry into a ball. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before rolling out.

2. Warm the olive oil in a heavy sauté pan, add the onions and salt, and cook covered over very low heat, stirring occasionally, for an hour or more, or until the onions are so soft as to form a semi-purée. Remove the lid and continue to cook until much of the liquid has evaporated; the onions should remain uncolored. Season with pepper.

3. Preheat the oven to 375°. With the palm of your hand, flatten the ball of pastry on a generously floured surface, sprinkle over with plenty of flour, and roll it out to a thickness of approximately ⅛". Roll it up on the rolling pin and unroll it onto a large baking sheet. Roll up the edges and crimp them.

4. Spread the onion purée evenly over the pastry, press the anchovies and olives into the purée, then drizzle a bit of olive oil over the surface.

5. Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges of the pastry are golden and crisp. Let it cool a bit before cutting into two- or three-bite sized pieces, making sure each has a few olives and some anchovy filet.

Note: To filet a whole anchovy, use a sharp paring knife and start just in front of the tail, gently lifting the meat from the backbone. If you work slowly, you should be able to peel of most of the meat in one go. If you don’t get it all, simply pull off any that remains with the tip of the knife or your fingers. Then, flip the fish over and repeat on the opposite sides. If there are any large bones at the front end where the head was removed, pull these off with your fingers. The rib bones are so tiny you don’t have to worry about any that remain in the meat. Once you’ve done a few, it gets pretty easy.


Anonymous said...

An excellent recipe for Pirate's Breath Pizza. Another one to add to my treasure locker of recipes.

Rick Blechta said...

Just make sure you use the salt-packed anchovies rather than the ones packed in oil. The results will not be quite the same. It will probably mean filleting the anchovies yourself, but that's not hard if you have a small sharp knife. For some reason, if you can only find anchovies packed in oil, make sure you pat them very dry!

Let me know how it turns out when you make it!