Yes, after weeks and weeks of failed plans and missed opportunities--none of which was helped by the sudden and untimely demise of Niu Kee--we finally got a chance to celebrate Kazi's birthday on Sunday. Michelle whipped up a lovely Pissaladière a la Niçoise (see above and below), Hermine brought a fresh and tasty Bourgogne Aligoté, and we descended upon a tiny little park on the edge of Mile End for an apero and appetizer picnic/get-together/birthday party. Pissaladière is a Niçois specialty that features caramelized onions, black olives, anchovies, and herbs on a thin crust pizza-like dough. Michelle had never had it before, but that didn't stop her from experimenting, and everyone was glad she did because it turned out amazingly. She made two slightly different kinds. Everyone's favorite was the one with a bit of fennel seed added to it--it cut the brininess of the anchovies and even provided a hint of sweetness. We used a recipe from Cook's Illustrated and it worked like a charm.
The traditional way to caramelize onions is to slow-cook them for about 2 hours over low heat. The Cook's Illustrated recipe suggested another quicker method, one that only takes 1/4 of the time, and the onions turned out perfectly. This will definitely be my new method for caramelizing onions. Here it is:
2 tbs olive oil
2 lbs yellow onions, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tbsp water
Heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat it shimmers but hasn't started to smoke yet. Stir in the onions, salt, and brown sugar and cook, stirring constantly, until the moisture from the onions has been evaporated, and the onions have begun to brown, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions have softened and are medium golden brown, about 20 minutes longer. Remove pan from heat and stir in water. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
For the life of me, I can't figure out why it's so rare that one finds Pissaladière outside of Nice (well, outside of France, at least). When I start my very own pizza truck complete with wood-burning oven Pissaladière will definitely be one of the offerings.
Several books and magazines I'd been reading lately featured pissaladière as the perfect food for summer. I must agree with them. It didn't take much time, especially since I made the dough in a -- gasp! -- food processor. (Yes, I still don't have a standing mixer.) It worked perfectly. Anthony caramelized the onions until they were candied. We placed a layer of chopped anchovies, a layer of Niçoise olives, fresh thyme, the onions, and extra anchovies on top as a garnish. It only took about 10 minutes to bake. The difficult part was mustering up the willpower to resist the call of the out-of-the-oven pissaladiere and carry it all the way to the little park where we were meeting some friends for a (post-)birthday picnic. You can use any pizza dough recipe if you like, or use the one we did from Cook's Illustrated:
2 c. flour
1 tsp. instant yeast
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. olice oil
1 c. warm water
Mix dry ingredients, add oil and water and mix until a ball forms. Let rise 1 hour. Divide in two, shape into balls and let rise 10 min. Stretch dough out into long ovals, brush with oil, add toppings and bake.
Serve with a salad (preferably one with greens fresh out of the garden) and wine.