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Sunday, August 30, 2009

French Muse

After you have made several of your own pizzas and you experience the variety and quality that can be achieved in-house, carry out or delivery become less appealing. From time to time, certain pies are an adequate substitution for homemade, but last week I wanted to venture outside the realm of familiarity and try something unique. I have become more and more fascinated by French cooking lately (and this is not merely because of "Julie and Julia" which I have not seen) and the other night a Pissaladière struck my fancy.

On a side note, the last pizza stone Dawn and I had lasted several pizzas before it ended in shards after I forgot to place the stone in the oven while it was preheating. This was an instant learning moment and one of those cooking experiences that leave you wiser for the future. Ever since then, the new stone has performed well on the prior pizzas and this one as well.

This Southern French "pizza" as you could call it consists of a caramelized onion base instead of the traditional tomato base often used in Italy. Pissaladière's are loaded with bursting flavors due to the length of time the mound of onions are allowed to cook in the oven with the bits of thyme and rosemary hiding inside to infuse flavor.

Resting on top of the herb infused onions are the anchovies. I realize that anchovies are greeted with hostility and sneers by many Americans because of their pungent odor and salty nature, mostly due to the brine they are packed in. Whether you are on the reluctant team or the robust flavors side, the combination of onions, herbs, mushrooms, and anchovies in this dish is incredible. I chose not to rinse my anchovies prior to placing them on the Pissaladière, but it is a judgment call based on your taste buds. One way or another, these morsels of fishy goodness will leave you wondering why you never forgo tomato sauce for caramelized onions at least when you have a can of anchovies in the cabinet. That, or why you never venture farther than the comfort of Caesar dressing.

Pissaladière Crust
Enough for approximately three to four crusts.
2 (1/4-ounce) packages active dry yeast
4 1/2 to 5 1/2 C. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 C. water (105–115°F), divided
1/4 C. extra virgin olive oil
2 t. salt
Corn meal for dusting

Whisk together yeast, 2 Tbsp flour, and 1/2 cup warm water in a measuring cup and let stand until mixture develops a foam, about 10 minutes. (If mixture doesn’t foam, discard and start over with new yeast.)

Stir together salt and 3 cups flour in a large bowl. Add yeast mixture and remaining 1 1/2 cups warm water and stir until smooth, then stir in 1 cup more flour. If dough sticks to your fingers, stir in just enough corn meal, a little at a time, to make dough just come away from side of bowl. This dough may be wetter than other pizza doughs you have made.

Knead dough on a lightly corn-mealed surface, lightly remealing work surface and hands when dough becomes too sticky, until dough is smooth, soft, and elastic, about 10 minutes.
Divide dough in half and form into the desired size balls, then generously dust balls all over with corn meal and place in medium bowls. Cover bowls with plastic wrap and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

Before rolling out, balls of dough can be generously dusted with corn meal for added crunchy texture if desired.


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