p1, Pissaladiere

enhanced-buzz-29835-1385791378-15The Dish

This particular little flatbread comes from Provence, along the southern coast, in particular focused in the town of Nice. Though I’m not quite sure why or how its regional identity gravitated to that specific city, Pisssaladiere’s origins are not surprisingly shared with the close neighbor of Italia. Supposedly the “day of creation,” much like with Ceasar and his Coq au Vin (just switch the countries), a French Pope named Clement (those who’ve studied Chateneauf du Pape are familiar with him) travelled to Rome for business (his Chateau and office were still in France), upon which the local cooks had to scramble to make something with the new ingredients he had brought over. After taking some salted fish that was brought over, they turned it into a paste and spread it over a local flatbread, likely foccacia, finishing with cooked onions and sliced olives (local or French is unsure, likely local). The new dish was a hit, and the rest is history, with families making versions of the dish on both sides of the border. Nowadays, at least in France, the anchovies are used whole, often criss-crossed like one of our own pies, instead of sauced on.

What I find most interesting, and amusing, is the name. One’s first thought when reading it, and seeing the thin flatbread-with-toppings, is its obvious connection to “pizza.” Which, apparently, there is none. Absolutely none. I know right? I mean it’s got it in the name, just s instead of z.

Well, the name actually comes from the Latin (once more some Italian origins, and yet still no technical relation to pizza evolution) pissalat, “salted fish,” as well as pissala which is similarly “salted fish/anchovy paste.” And though the true origins of the term “pizza” is in debate, there being multiple words that it’s thought to evolve from, my research has turned up that not ONE of the theories links to Pissaladiere. So I guess we’ll just have to settle with a boring, non-pizza related French history of a salty flatbread that technically originated in Italy.

A Word On…

20140625_155844Anchovies:It’s not much of an anchovy dish unless one can find the GOOD anchovies. Though I can’t say much for ordering specialty French-caught and hand-preserved fishies, I know any decent quality store or market (Italian ones too) should stock some good options. Got this little jar at my local seafood place, and god they were delicious; the ‘chovies were HUGE, and actually sorta thick (not those steamrolled strips of salty paper) and meaty… so good. Did NOT get as much from the container as I thought, though, so the resulting pie was a bit lacking in toppings. Which is fine, the flavor’s quite noticeable.

Olives:I just love a good, tasty, cured olive. Whenever I find myself in a certain Italian shop, sooner or later my mouth ends up hanging over the giant buckets filled with the whole fruit in their oil/brine to sample. So when I was at a local wine and cheese shop, and saw similar quality Italian Green olives in their case, I couldn’t help buying some ahead of time for the unique dish I knew I was soon to create.

Then I actually did some research and found out that pissaladiere usually uses Black French Olives… oops. Probably could have found some too, or at least a better substitute. Oh well, at the end of the day, as far as I care with any olive dish, all one needs is a delicious, good quality variety that you love. Pretty easy to find, just don’t do it from those long buffet-trays in the nearby supermarket.

20140625_163101If you’re not familiar with preparing un-seeded olives, it’s easy, but depends on how attached the seed is to the flesh. Usually it’s pretty simple to smash them under the flat of your knife and pop one out, then cut your thick, not-so-perfect rings. Some will NOT cooperate, so you will have to cut around.2014-05-08 18.45.39-2

Onions:Looking through recipes, I’ve seen two main ways to cook the onions (white or yellow), without any real highlight on which is properly classic. There’s sautéing with herbs and garlic until soft, then getting those edges nice and golden; and then there’s just caramelizing it to the max. Due to my unsurety, and the ability to work with a whole round, I thought I’d just go ahead and do a half-and-half, see what I prefer. I mean all I needed to do was separate half the onions partway through cooking; capers, instead of heating through like the soft onions, should just be sprinkled on top of the caramelized before cooking.

Dough:Like the Flammekeuche, most recipes out there focus on some form of bread dough as the base. It’s not the only kind used though; quite a few sources list this dish as made with either Bread or Shortcrust dough (basically pie dough). In fact, when debating which style I should use, I ran across an article mentioning the commonality between French and Italian pissaladiere. Seems the only difference seen between the two, other than potential inclusions of red veggies across the border, is the French’s use of Shortcrust. Thus my decision was made; though the origins of any topping’d flatbread would begin with simple bread dough, the shortcrust makes a fun differentiation that’s still classic with the culinary interests and trends of the last couple centuries. If you want to go with a bread dough, then I suggest any decent looking recipe that uses olive oil (yeasted or not, it seems to be the one commonality).

Pissaladiere
1 Stick/4oz Butter, chilled
7oz Flour
1 Egg, Beaten
1 Tb Water and/or Anchovy liquid
3-4 Yellow Onions
1 Tb Olive Oil
1-2 Bay Leaves
Thyme Sprig
3 Cloves Garlic, chopped fine
1 Tb Capers
3-4 oz Quality Olives
1 Jar/Tin Anchovies, however much needed/desired
Black Pepper

Directions

  1. To make the dough, chop the cold dough small and rub, with fingertips, into the flour until mostly “cornmeal” texture, leaving some larger lumps for flake purposes (can also do this in a food processor).20140625_155858
  2. Mix in enough of the Egg, Water, and Anchovy Oil/Liquid to bind everything together. Reserve remaining egg to the side.20140625_160347
  3. Press into a firm, flat round, chill in fridge for at least an hour.20140625_160921
  4. While this is cooling, chop onions into the desired size (I like large chunks, thin slices cook up very well though).20140625_161049
  5. Heat a pan up to Med/Med-High heat, while at the same time preheating the oven to 400F, with baking stone.20140625_162331
  6. Add Olive Oil, Onions, Bay Leaves, and Thyme, cooking until soft, 5-8 minutes depending.20140625_162555
  7. Add in Garlic and continue cooking until edges are nicely golden and caramelized. Chop capers fine, mix in, and continue to cook about 2 minutes more or until flavor is well incorporated. Turn off and let chill.20140625_163937
  8. Prep other ingredients, slicing Olives as needed and draining Anchovy Filets on paper towels.20140625_163525
  9. Remove Shortcrust dough from fridge, transfer to floured countertop, and roll to ¼” thickness. Trim to a large rectangle or circle, rolling up the edges to form a rim (one could also roll the leftover dough into thin strips and attach).20140625_172759
  10. Move to a well floured and cornmealed paddle/baking sheet to start filling.20140625_174306
  11. Fill the bottom with a thick layer of the soft onions (herb stalks removed), sprinkling the desired amount/concentration of olives on top. Arrange anchovies over in a cross-hatch pattern.20140625_182350
  12. Wash the edges with the remaining egg and transfer to baking stone in oven, cook 20-30 minutes, until lightly browned and crust is set and flaky.20140625_182428
  13. Remove, let cool a couple minutes, slice and enjoy.

The Verdict

I can’t say I was able to reach the ideal of what this dish should be, I mean obviously I needed WAY more anchovies (I swear it looked like there was a lot more in that jar), but the elements were still very satisfactory. I officially prefer the golden, not-completely-caramelized onion base in terms of bringing that overall Provencal flavor; plus it’s still soft without hiding the beautiful onion flavors under pure caramel. The nice, pickled and salty garnishes come out even more and make for a nice appetizer, particular with that super-flaky pie crust base. Speaking of which, I wonder if the result I got was still “traditional;” if anything I feel like I wanna go for dough more reminiscent of what’s used in many of the dessert Tartes, crispy and semi-flaky but nice and firm. If I have any leftover from one of the desserts I am sure to make in the future, I might go ahead and use it to make another pissaladiere. Because it’s delicious.

20140625_181648Primary Pairing – Muscadet a Sevre et Maine

If I were to pair this dish Regionally, I might have gone with something like a Rose, as Buzzfeed well suggests, or potentially find a random white wine from the oft-unseen, not-well-known little regions that rarely meet our market to much acclaim. But I only have one rose at the moment, which I already have a specific dish in mind for, and the latter would be a giant pain to research, and even then I wouldn’t have enough confidence in my palette expectations of these wines which I’ve had no experience with.

Besides, at the end of the day I found myself craving a certain little region on the western coast of the Loire River known as Muscadet. Using the Melon de Bourgogne grape, the wines of this region are known for a particularly unique identity, especially those of the Sevre et Maine AOC. Made near the sea, using a method known as “sur lie” where the wine is allowed to rest on the settled yeasts and other particulates, it develops trace amounts of both salty and yeasty notes, along with an almost imperceptible fizz or effervescence; aspects which make it great to match the briny anchovy-olive pizza and buttery pie crust. Followed with a light body and refreshingly crisp acidity, a good Muscadet would be able to stand through any hints of richness and pungently preserved flavors without overpowering, a perfect aperitif choice.

20140625_181344My Bottle: 2012 Selection des Cognettes Muscadet S-et-M, Sur Lie

Always a great, readily available and affordable bottle from this region, the Cognette vineyard is able to keep flavors clean, with nice notes of elderflower and pears alongside the typical yeastiness, without getting too much of that “fatty” skin feeling I find in most low-end white wines (it’s hard to describe really). Made for a nummy accompaniment to the flaky tartlette. I coulda sworn I took a picture of the glass with the sliced triangles of the pissaladiere too, but somehow it’s disappeared…

Secondary Pairing – Fino/Manzanilla Sherry

What better drink to pair with a light, super salty, coastal dish made in a hot southern region than a Fino Sherry, made in the white albariza hills of Southwest Spain, the sea breezes wafting over the stockpiles of sherry casks in the giant Solera system. Such versatile fortified wines they produce, and the completely uncolored, notably salty and acetaldehyde notes (unique yeasty, nutty, creamy notes subject almost solely to Flor-affected products, like sherry) go amazingly with a myriad of dishes, especially this anchovy-laden tarte. The body may be a bit high, but its acidity and pure, clean flavors can cut through to make one reminisce of a lighter experience. Taken in sips, like a fine brandy, a chilled Fino or Manzanilla mixes with Pissaladiere to make a stimulating start to any day of leisure.220px-CatavinoEnMano

p1: Flammekeuche

The Dish

enhanced-buzz-30437-1385763316-0One of the very few “pizzas” that France can call its own (like New York Style… I wonder if they have a regionally rivalry with some place in Languedoc making Deep Dish versions), Alsace is home to what they call Flammekeuche; it’s also known as Tarte Flambe in the rest of France, Flammekeuken in Germany, and multiple variations of the same name depending on who you ask. At the end of the day, they all mean the same thing, “Flamed Tart” (or “Fire Cake” or “Burning Flatbread,” there’s at least 10 ways to translate this to English I’m sure).

I love how this particular food started. So, back in the day, when bakers or any other French/Alsatian/German shop heated up their big, wood-fired brick ovens, they needed to test whether it was hot enough (you know, enough to say, melt a cast iron pan or something… those ovens get hot, damn). So they’d thinly roll out some bread dough, put some random chops of onion and bacon on top (a classic German combo, like mirepoix but with meat), maybe with some cream or fresh white cheese, and slide it in like a pizza. If the edges browned and everything cooked and bubbled in 1-2 minutes, the oven surface was good, and they had lunch (or maybe breakfast or something).

Of course as popularity went on, some refinement happened over time, recipes call to ensure thin slicing and the use of crème fraicheor other dairy sources. I can’t even tell, from the multiple sources, if the original versions of this used raw onions+bacon on the “pizza” and moved to lightly cooked and caramelized for each, or if they started cooked beforehand and nowadays focus on raw. Either way, the raw-on-top before oven cooking seems to be prevalent in recipes, and the style I’m focusing on today.

A Word On…

Dough:Don’t really know too much about dough to say anything about what’s “required” for certain types, and there’s nothing stated in flammekeuche history that hints at any particular unique aspect to its bread, other than it being able to roll out Thin. So just find a recipe that seems to work, if you have a good one you’ve used before then go for it. I’ve even seen someone use puff pastry… which sorta feels insulting, but whatever floats your boat.

20140521_114544Dairy/Sauce:One of the three ingredient cornerstones to this dish is the creamy “white sauce” spread heavily with the other generous food items. This is nowadays usually Crème Fraiche based, but it doesn’t have to be all crème fraiche; in fact, most recipes I’ve found mix it with an equal portion of soft, fresh curds. Fromage Blanc, Farm Cheese, Ricotta, even Cottage Cheese; for fun, I decided to make my own, both the Crème and Cheese. The links to their recipes are in the ingredients list lower down.

20140517_133512Bacon:Truly, any bacon will do (from what I’ve seen), no particular “Alsatian/German style” we need to worry about. Though, as I always say, if you’re gonna do a real “Bacon” dish, ya gotta get it thick cut. Any place that has it in the counter as a whole slab and slice it to order can get it to wherever you want; the pre-sliced stuff can just has that good width ya know?

Now, we should also talk about “cooking” this. Whether one likes it or not, if you want to make it how it’s classically done, then you’ll be putting it on the pizza raw. I know, it scares you, scared me too, but it WILL cook all the way while baking on the pizza (if you do it as directed). For argument’s sake, though, I actually decided to make two of these flatbreads for the dinner; I had extra dough anyways.

One was the highly classic, raw bacon and raw sliced onions; the other was a “cooked” version. Bacon sizzled in the pan until crispy, removed, and then I sautéed some thicker onion slices in the leftover fat and used both to top the fraiche/cheese covered dough.

It tasted pretty good, the cooked version. Wasn’t classic, but who can say no to crispy fatty bacon and almost-caramelized onions? Wish I had more of it though… and more sauce (sorta just soaked into the crust with no raw onions to coat).

20140521_185935Baking:Classically done, as all good pizzas are, in a fire-fueled brick oven. I’m guessing most people don’t have access to one of these to play with (I mean, I don’t… if you do then bravo sir, bravo); one could possibly attempt substitution by building a wood fire in a non-propane-designed grill, getting it to those blazing embers and setting a baking stone on top to heat up. Lotta work though, and not quite sure it would go exactly as planned… so oven it is. Just get it super hot; I prefer all my pizzas at the height of 500F, a pizza stone inside while it heats up, to allow for fast cooking and browning, one of the most important aspects of pizza construction. The recipe I found called for 450F though, so I just went with 475; anything in this 50 degree range seems to work.20140521_141713

Flammekeuche
1 cup Water, lukewarm
1 packet (2 ½ tsp) Active Dry Yeast
2 ¼-2 ½ cups Flour
2-3 tsp Salt
½ White Onion
½ cup Crème Fraiche
½ cup Fromage Blanc or other fresh, white Cheese, preferably Homemade
3-4 slices Thick-cut Bacon
Black Pepper
Cornmeal

Directions

  1. Combine Water, Yeast, and 1 cup Flour in a bowl, stirring until all blended. Leave 5 or so minutes to Bloom/Proof the yeast (with the flour mixed in, the appearance won’t really change; it may smell MORE yeasty).20140521_113742
  2. Slowly stir in remaining Flour and 1 tsp of the Salt, mixing until it’s too stiff to stir.20140521_115828
  3. Turn onto a lightly floured surface, flour your hands, and begin kneading thoroughly at least 10 minutes (or, if you’re me, 30… I probably should have gone longer too). It will remain lightly sticky throughout the kneading process; if it’s ESPECIALLY sticky, add more flour while working.20140521_115954
  4. Once ‘smooth and satiny,’ aka when it feels like actual dough, place in bowl, cover with plastic wrap (pressed onto the skin), leave to proof in warm area until doubled in size, about 1 hour.20140521_123229
  5. Punch down, re-cover, and let double again, another hour.20140521_135543
  6. While this is resting, thinly slice the Onion and combine with Crème Fraiche, Cheese, Black Pepper and rest of Salt. Leave to sit at least 15 minutes to mingle and “soften” the onions.20140521_114838
  7. Chop Bacon into small chunks, reserve.20140521_184217
  8. Place a Pizza or other thicker Baking Stone/Pan in oven and turn to 475-500F.20140521_180857
  9. Take out as much of the prepared dough as needed/desired and flatten onto a lightly floured surface with the palm of your hands.20140521_181236
  10. Roll out, trying to keep the desired rectangular shape, until as thin as one feels comfortable making it. If unable to get the shape one wants, and is quite adamant about the final appearance, cut the dough with a bench scraper or pizza cutter.20140521_181228
  11. Heavily sprinkle (more than what’s seen in the picture) the Cornmeal on whatever transfer paddle/pan/etc one is using (you WILL need one). Carefully and quickly lift and transfer the naked dough onto this.20140521_182519
  12. Spread the cream-coated onions evenly over the base dough, going almost all the way to the edge. Follow by sprinkling the raw bacon evenly on top, getting as much as desired on top.20140521_184204
  13. Crack a fresh seasoning of black pepper over the top and move to the oven, transferring onto the stone with a quick push+backslide of the pan and tug of the dough (if there’s enough cornmeal, this should be a snap).20140521_185942
  14. Bake 12-20 minutes, depending on various factors, until the dough edges are dark brown and crispy.20140521_190149
  15. Remove, slice, and serve immediately; no need for resting. Enjoy.

T20140521_190622he Verdict

Crust ended up a bit too thick for what I was going for (still worked and tasted good, just wasn’t technically a “thin crust” item); maybe next time, besides ensuring it’s rolled even thinner, I’ll dock the dough as well to prevent more rising. Maybe slice the onions in half too; the thin rings tended to pull on some bites. Other than that, I liked it; the flavors were a little more muted than I would have thought with onions and bacon. But it was creamy, with a bit of that black pepper and onion spiciness, soft topping and crunchy handle. It felt like something I would eat in that little corner between France and Germany. I really liked how soft the onions got, and the different flavors of the raw-baked bacon. Which is something else to note; despite worries I had starting out, the raw bacon cooked all the way in the oven; it may not have gotten that thorough “crispiness” we’re used to, but it’s still hammy, delicately smoky goodness.

At the end of the day though, it’s crunchy, creamy, delicious pizza/flatbread, and that’s all that really matters.

Primary Pairing – Alsace Pinot Blanc

Just because a dish is from Alsace doesn’t mean it has to automatically be paired with Riesling or Gewurztraminer, which I keep finding on Flammekeuche webpages. I don’t really know why, there are some quite notable aspects of this food item that immediately preclude both these wines, if one knows anything about Alsatian vinification practices.

Let’s start with something immediately noted; tart crème fraiche, milky cheese, BACON, this dish has some fat and lactic acid. Not too much, but it needs the same acid in its wine to cut through a lot of it and stand up to our sour dressing. Gewurztraminer has NO acid (okay, some, but it’s not a lot at all), it’s low and flabby and highlights an oily texture for those spicy aromatic; just NOT what we want here at all. Now, Riesling has plenty, but like Gewurz it has something else the winemakers in this region like to give. Ripening their grapes to their fullest extent, they then take these sugars and ferment ALL of it out, stereotypically making very DRY wines with BIG bodies; well, if they have enough sugars. The Riesling often does, and unlike its German counterpart is known for large, fully bodies and mouthfeels; which would hold true even for those French winemakers who are transitioning to sweeter products (it’s a big thing, and I talk to much as is, so I’ll stop now).

20140521_184714And this is not a “big” dish; thin crispy crust, some onions and fresh/lighter style cream, and gentle flavors, any full-bodied wine would easily overpower this. Which is why I love that they use Pinot Blanc; it’s a higher acid, low body grape which, with this climate and winemaking practices, changes to a medium-ish acid and body white. It’s a great food wine for all the non-hearty or uber-Germanic foods (see Choucroute once I get into it). Plus it’s usually more price-conscious than other offerings; not a lot of character to it either, but that’s nice too, not as “distracting.”

My Bottle: 2011 Zinck Pinot Blanc

A convenient and well-pairing option, the price-conscious Zinck quaffed itself down easily, providing nice little simple citrus and white floral tones over the general winey flavors. It’s somewhat musky (which I enjoyed with the black pepper) and fills the mouth just enough, as any decent Alsatian wine should, to swim along the bacony-oniony bread. Overall, it’s a viable option for any searching; would be nice to try some of the more expensive Blancs for super-refined freshness (such as the well-known Zindt-Humbrecht).

mehrere Ma§ BiereSecondary Pairing – Märzen/Oktoberfest

When we’re on the cultural border of France and Germany, one just can’t count out the inclusion of beer. I feel I’ve been doing a lot of white, wheat, light-malted, etc beers for my pairings so far; some of which would definitely fit right into drinking here, but I’d like to change things up a bit.

The traditional Oktoberfest beer, Marzen’s origins lie in the need to make large quantities of beer in later winter, while the temperature was still cool and perfect for clean fermentation, and holding in chilled caves during the summer. Often made in March, thus Marzen, these biers were often given darker malts and more hops than usual to cover up any off flavors resulting from the warming temperatures and long “ageing” in cellar as they waited for consumption. Those still left by October would develop rich, toasty malt bodies and mellowed hops.

There has of course been much refinement of this up to today. Thus, the main thing to focus on is a leaning towards those medium-toasted, caramel-toffee flavored malts, using just enough to give that characteristic burnt orange color. Alcohol, as it says historiclally, was made “high” to last during storage, but it really only comes up to 5-6%, a great beer range to pair with this food. And finally, a stronger than mild but not intense use of hops will serve the same way as our acid.

A tasty beer to celebrate the seasons, along with a flatbread to eat on a sunny summer day. Truly an almost perfect expression of Germanic influence.