Eric Akis: Going French with pizza

Eric Akis

The winter solstice is just around corner, but if you have already developed a case of the winter blahs, brighten things up by making pissaladière.

It’s a palate-awakening, spirit-lifting, pizza-like tart originating from Nice, a city in the southern French region of Provence.

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The base for pissaladière is typically yeast dough. But it can also be made with light, flaky and rich-tasting puff pastry. That’s what famed culinary personality Julia Child used in her recipes. I do, too.

The traditional toppings for pissaladière are cooked onions, black olives (usually niçoise), and anchovies, with the latter often set on top in a criss-cross pattern.

You also see recipes for pissaladière where other toppings are added and my recipe is one of them.

For example, I decided to replace the onions with another member of that family of vegetables, leeks.

As noted in a past column, a leek is kind of like three vegetables in one. It looks like a giant scallion, is related to both garlic and onion and has an appealing flavour with hints of all three. Those are qualities that make it a great ingredient to sauté and set on my pissaladière.

I use olives and anchovies in my recipe. But because I prefer strong-tasting anchovies in small doses, rather than setting whole fillets of them on my pissaladière —which is what’s typically done — I used thinly sliced ones.

When you take a bite of the pissaladière, those tiny bits of anchovy nicely blend with the other ingredients, rather than overpower them, as they could if you end up with a whole anchovy in your mouth.

If you’ve visited southern France, you’ll note that ingredients from other countries situated on the Mediterranean also find their way into some of the dishes served. I followed that lead and also topped my pissaladière with bits of Italian prosciutto and crumbled, Greek-style feta cheese.

My recipe serves two, yielding two nice-sized squares of pissaladière per person, but it could easily be expanded if you’re feeding a larger group. I like to serve pissaladière with rosé wine and a leafy green salad dressed with vinaigrette. It definitely tastes and looks like a summer meal and when enjoyed at this time of year, should take away your winter blahs.

Pissaladière with Leeks, Prosciutto and Feta

Flaky, light and rich-tasting puff pastry is the base for this French-style pizza-like tart, topped with a range of tasty Mediterranean-style ingredients. Beyond those noted in the recipe name, they also include roasted peppers, olives and anchovies.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: 22 to 24 minutes

Makes: Two (two squares each) servings

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus some for drizzling

1 1/2 cups thinly sliced leeks, white and pale green part only (see Note 1)

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 (10-inch) square piece frozen rolled puff pastry, thawed (see Note 2)

1/2 cup crumbed feta cheese

3 to 4 paper-thin slices prosciutto, torn into pieces

10 to 12 black or green olives, or mix of both, pitted and halved

1 small roasted red pepper, diced (see Note 3)

3 anchovies, thinly sliced widthwise

2 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves

• freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat the 2 Tbsp oil in a skillet set over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook until quite tender, about five minutes. Add the garlic to the pan and cook one minute more. Remove leeks from the heat and cool to room temperature.

Set the puff pastry flat on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Top it with the leeks, leaving a 1/2-inch border of clean pastry around the edges. Top the leeks with the feta. Now disperse the prosciutto, olives, red peppers and anchovies on top of the leeks and cheese. Sprinkle all with the thyme leaves and black pepper.

Refrigerate the unbaked pissaladière for 15 minutes (this chilling will make the pastry puff better once in the hot oven.) Preheat the oven to 425 F.

When the pastry has fully chilled and the oven is hot, bake the pissaladière for 16 to 18 minutes, or until puffed and richly golden. Cool slightly and then cut each pissaladière into four squares.

Drizzle with additional olive oil, if desired, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Note 1: One very large, or two small to medium leeks, should yield the amount required here. Save the top, darker green parts of the leek you don’t use for a puréed soup. Or use it to flavour homemade fish, chicken, vegetable, turkey or beef stock.

Note 2: I used Tenderflake brand rolled puff pastry in this recipe. A 500 gram box of it contains two individually wrapped rolled pieces of puff pastry.

Note 3: Roasted red peppers are sold in jars at most supermarkets.

Eric’s options: Instead of leeks, top the pissaladière with one large onion, halved and thinly sliced. Cook it slowly in 2 Tbsp olive oil until very tender, and then cool it before using. Instead of feta, use crumbled soft goat cheese in this recipe. Instead of roasted peppers, use sliced sun-dried tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes, to taste. Instead of thyme, use fresh oregano leaves or torn basil leaves on the pissaladière.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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