I rarely cook without some kind of a recipe. Often it will be a recipe I made a few times three or five years ago and I'll just run off memory. Othertimes I'll flip back the recipe many times as I cook for guidance, though I should say that with the exception of baking, I almost never measure and I almost always substitute a good quarter of the ingredients. Still, it is rare that I don't have a recipe book or tattered piece of paper somewhere nearby for inspiration as I cook. Last night's dinner was different.
The inspiration for dinner was the boxes of vine ripened tomatoes on sale $2 for 2 boxes at my local green grocer. I'm a fussy gal when it comes to tomatoes. Really, I'll admit, I only enjoy them during tomato season proper, preferably when they come from my own tomato plants ripened in the sun. That said, I'm a wholehearted fan of the tomato itself. So what is one to do with $2 worth of cheap, decent but not quite fabulous tomatoes? Oven roast them. And so I did. I oven roasted about 2 dozen small nearly overripe tomatoes with a brush of olive oil, some ground sea salt and fresh pepper in a 250 degree oven for roughly four hours. Or so.
Now I needed a plan for those savoury sweet little gems. The thyme in my garden right now has finally established itself as healthy large plants and I have a few to choose from. We haven't quite hit the hot days of summer here in Vancouver (opting instead for the "oh look, it's raining again days) and so using a little fresh thyme seemed like a good flavour to pair with the tomatoes. Not quite the summer freshness of basil but not the winter heartiness of rosemary. From there the flavours of thyme and tomato had me thinking of pissaladière, the sourthern french cousin of pizza. I didn't have time to make a pizza dough or a tart shell with other errands and things yesterday, so instead I took out a sheet of puff pastry (I nearly always keep on in the freezer, as they really are handy as heck) to thaw.
Later that evening I began to assemble my own version of a pissaladière. Now traditionally a pissaladière should have anchovies in it, but as a vegetarian I'm not an anchovie gal, and so I swapped them for capers. I carmelized two small onions in olive oil, salt and pepper, stirring in fresh thyme and a generous drop of red wine vinegar at the end.I assembled things and thought I needed a bit more variety, so sauteed some sliced portobellos and crumbled a bit of goats cheese on top. The result? A relativley low fuss but, if I may say so myself, really darn tasty dinner. Served with some olives and a fresh green salad of arugula and mustard greens it was delightful. Oh, the Dry Reisling helped with the delightful part.
I'm as hopeless at writing recipes as I am at following them, so here's my rough directions. If you're a fussy sort of cook who needs a lot of exactness this may not be for you.
Early Summer Pissaladière
(Vegan Option Included)
* One sheet of puff pastry (the kind I get, is already in a sheet, so no rolling out, and it is vegan made with vegetable shortening, traditionally puff pastry is made with lard, so be careful if that's not your thing)
* 6 tomatoes oven roasted (12 tomato halves)
* 2 small onions
* 2 portobello mushrooms
* some goat's cheese (asiago, bocconcini, provolone or feta would all work well here as well, equally you could do without)
* about 4 stems of cut fresh thyme
* 1 genorous tbsp of capers
* salt & pepper
If you haven't already oven roasted your tomatoes you'll want to start about 5 hours ahead of when you want to eat. I typically oven roast a bunch of these at once and keep them in the fridge to use over the week. Simply cut the tomatoes in half, place on parchmennt lined baking sheets, brush or drizzle with olive oil and grind some sea salt (or sprinkle a bit of salt) and fresh pepper over top. Place in a 250 degree oven for about four hours. They're juicier than sundried tomatoes, sweeter and a great way to get an intense tomato taste when tomatoes aren't at the their best.
Ok, now you've got your tomatoes. Turn your oven to 400 to preheat and it's time to carmelize your onions. Now carmelize might be a bit of an exageration, we're really just heavily sauteeing the onions until they're very soft and have taken on a sweeter taste. You can keep going and get a really sweet and sticky onion, but that's not necessary here. Coat a heavy pan with olive oil and add the two sliced onions. They'll cook down to less than half what you see now, so you'll want a lot of them. Add a pinch of sea salt and cook over medium heat stirring often so they don't burn or brown unevenly. Saute them until they are very soft and have released all their sharp "onion-y-ness." At this point I typically cheat a bit and add about 2 tsps of unrefined sugar to sweeten the onions cooking and stirring the sugar in. Now add a generous drop of red wine vinegar (you could also use balsamic but I wanted the thyme to be the primary flavour, not balsamic) and keep stirring until that cooks off. Now tear your thyme leaves from the stem and stir them into the onions, turn off the heat.
At this point I started assembling the pissaladière. Either roll out or unfold your prerolled pastry onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. Mine was a bit too big for my baking sheet so I turned it up at the edges. Spread the onions on the base and add your tomatoes spacing them evenly across the top.
With my onion pan empty, but not cleaned I now sauteed my sliced portobellos in the seasoned pan. I sauteed them to the point that they had started to release their juices and soften but weren't total mush as they still need to cook for a bit and I wanted them to retain some structure without leaking too much mushroom juice onto the pastry. Add them to the pissaladière, spreading them evenly. Now rinse your capers and add them to the top as well. I probably used more than 1 tbsp, but Martin really loves capers.
Now, if you wish you can crumble some cheese on the top. I used some left over goat's cheese that was in the fridge, but as I say many other cheeses would work, as would omitting this step entirely (a traditional pissaladière does not have cheese). Grind a bit more pepper over the top and put in a 400 degree oven for about 25 minutes until the edges of the pastry are puffed and brown.
Served with a fresh green salad this fed two of us with about a 1/4 left over. It could easily be stretched to feed more folks if you had more side dishes -- some grilled asparagus, an olive tapenade or small bowls of garlic scape soup would all be nice accompaniments.
You could also change the ingredients to suit your taste or current fridge stock. For example, grilled asparagus would be great on there in place of the mushrooms. You could add a base of a fresh herb paste -- a sorrel pesto, arugula pesto or italian parsley pesto would be great. Olives instead of capers would be good. Grilled zucchini slices or roasted eggplant would also be wonderful on this. You could also serve it topped with a generous amount of fresh herbs: italian parsley, chive flowers or later in summer fresh basil would all be fantastic.