The Hand Off: Provençal Onion Pizza (A.K.A. Anchovies Incognito)
By Allison Radecki
Talk about a fragrant fiesta! Between thinly slivering onion slices (with multiple reaches toward a handy box of tissues) and baking a glistening tray of herb-scattered pizza dough, my home was a symphony of scents. The Provençal Onion Pizza experiment was off to a great start. When our dinner guests arrived and started swooning as their nasal passages perked up, I knew that this recipe was a winner.
The amount of active preparation time for this dish is actually quite deceptive. Once the dough is ready to be kneaded, it only takes about ten minutes to transform the clumpy, stringy lump to a smoother, silkier texture. Just slap that ball down, press out with the heel of your hand from the center and repeat. It’s that easy. Mixing, rising and kneading the pizza base did require time, patience and elbow grease, but I assure you that all those minutes spent trying not to lift the damp cloth to check upon the rising ball of dough and doing vigorous battle with a rolling pin are rewarded in spades.
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The dough can rise in a warm corner as you move on to the next step, preparing the onion topping (…as mentioned before, don’t skimp on those tissues). I became the star of my own version of The Crying Game as I chopped, but after a few splashes of cold water, all was forgotten.
Using onions and anchovies felt like a seasonably wintery thing to do, since both items store well and lengthily during the colder months. And, even though conventionally raised onions appear on the Environmental Working Group’s list of least contaminated fruits and vegetables (as far as pesticides are concerned), I opted for a red mesh bag of organic onions from California that were on sale at Whole Foods.
One of my visiting dinner guests remarked that she was definitely not a fan of anchovies when I shared the week’s secret ingredient, but was game to try a slice of pizza nonetheless. After one bite she declared herself a convert (“as long as I can’t see the fish, I’ll eat them”) and assured our table that if she hadn’t known that salted fish played a part in the final product, she never would have guessed it. Sharing the trivia tidbit that Worcestershire sauce, Caesar dressing and many remoulades also harbor a sly school of slippery fish also made her eyebrows raise. There are anchovies hiding in plain sight, I tell you. They’d make great spies.
Provençal Onion Pizza
Prep time: 2 hours 30 minutes (includes dough rising time)
Cook time: 20-25 minutes
Total time: 2 hours 50-55 minutes
Yield: serves 8 people
- 1 cup (or more) warm water
- 2 packages dry, active yeast (7 oz. each)
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 Tbs beaten egg
- 1/8 cup room temperature milk
- 4 cups unbleached flour
- 2 Tbs sea salt
- pinch of sugar
- 2 large ripe tomatoes
- 8 onions, sliced paper thin
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup (less 2 Tbs) extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 Tbs anchovy paste (don’t be stingy- it just melts into the toppings)
- 1 1/2 Tbs minced fresh thyme
- 1 1/2 Tbs minced fresh rosemary
- pinch dried oregano
- 1/4 cup pitted and halved (preferably oil-cured) black olives (Nicoise olives are perfect, though Greek or Italian olives will do as well).
- To make the dough: Place ¼ cup of warm water in a bowl and stir in the 2 packets of yeast. Allow this mixture to rest for about 10 minutes. You’ll want to see the mixture get foamy (with little bubbles at the surface). If it doesn’t foam, you’ll need to start again with more packets of yeast, as packaged yeast can sometimes be inactive.
- In another bowl, combine ¾ cup of warm water, 1/3 cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 1 ½ Tablespoons of beaten egg and 1/8 cup of room temperature milk.
- In a larger bowl, combine the flour, salt and sugar.
- Add the two wet mixtures to the larger bowl holding the dry ingredients.
- Combine wet and dry ingredients with a spoon.
- When a consistent dough forms (you may want to add 1 to 2 teaspoons of water if the dough looks too dry) turn your dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Dust hands with flour and knead for several minutes (about 10) until the dough has a smooth, firm, elastic character (…you’ll notice the ‘skin’ on the dough starting to smooth as you knead).
- Form your dough into a ball and place it in a lightly oiled bowl. Brush the dough with olive oil, and cover it with a damp kitchen towel. Allow the dough to rise in the covered bowl for about 1 hour (or until it doubles in size) in a warm, draft-free place. Note: for this recipe (unlike a bread recipe), the dough does not need to rise for a second time. Once is enough.
- To make the pizza topping: Combine the sliced onions, olive oil ( ½ a cup less 2 Tablespoons) and ½ a cup of water in a large pot.
- Once the onions begin to cook, add in a handful (about a Tablespoon each) of the minced thyme, rosemary and a pinch of dried oregano. Cover the pot and cook on a low flame for about 45 minutes—stirring the pot often. You don’t want the onions to caramelize, just melt down to a creamy consistency.
- Turn off the burner and stir in the reserved 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, 2 Tablespoons of anchovy paste and minced garlic into the onion mixture.
- To assemble and bake the pizza: Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees.
- Oil a sheet pan lightly with olive oil. I used a jellyroll pan that measured 12 x 17 inches.
- Roll out your dough on a floured surface into a thin, flat rectangle. Transfer this dough onto your baking sheet. Press out any air pockets that may form when you place the dough on the pan.
- If the edges of the dough overflow the pan’s edges—no worries— you can just cut away the extra dough and then fold in the edges to make a crust. Prick the dough’s surface with a fork to make many tiny holes.
- Line the crust with a layer of sliced tomatoes. Spread the onion topping evenly on top of the tomatoes.
- Brush the exposed crust with the remaining beaten egg. Let the entire pie rest 5 minutes before placing the pan in the oven to cook.
- Cook the pizza in a 400 degree oven for 20 – 25 minutes on the middle rack.
- Remove the pizza from the oven. Artfully scatter black olives on top of the onions.
- Serve warm or at room temperature, cut into wedges.
So, consider this onion and anchovy adventure a tasty success. Paired with a green salad, two small slices of pizza make quite a filling meal. And, I am happy to report, the leftovers make an even better snack (or breakfast) served cold the next day. Cold pizza for breakfast. Hey, if it works, don’t knock it…fish and all.