lIn the middle months of the pandemic, when we could go out, but not far, I kept meeting the same people in well-spaced rows and saying the same things. “It’s going well, but we’re climbing the walls”, “Zoom”, “sorry”, “mask”, “dog”. I also noticed that I was talking about parties.
In the beginning it was a queue chat about having people. But as the months went on, I found myself getting more and more detailed chats and thoughts about parties. Remembered, made-up, nostalgic house parties; kitchens full of people and baths full of ice, vertical conversations on stairs, red wine on carpets, sofas pushed back to make room for dancing invited).
In September 2020 I spent an evening with a friend who was planning a party that we were unable to hold. How we would make pitchers of ice-cold negroni and pour Messina beer and five liter cases of wine. Before dinner we imagined big bowls with a knobby cheese snack called fonziesmilk rolls filled with salami, olives the size of small plums, fried cheese and pizza boxes, which are important for the sake of this column. pissadella with anchovy diamonds.
Also known as sardonic† piscalandrea or pizza alla ligurepissadella is part of a family of anchovy-onion-tomato-olive-topped flatbreads typical of Liguria (and Nice in France, which has a tomato-less version called pissaladière, and a reminder of boundary shifting and communal cooking). Some variations are unleavened, while others contain yeast, although I’ve had more success with yeast recipes so far. I also prefer those that suggest adding the anchovies after baking, rather than adding them to the tomato sauce – I miss the power of a fillet.
It was the Roman cook and teacher Carla Tomasi who taught me to knead dough with oiled hands on a lightly oiled surface. Years later I still say “Hello, Carla” every time. Not only does it help control stickiness, it also means you don’t use more flour, which happens when you knead on a floured surface. Although many people say it’s an unnecessary step with modern yeasts, I still stubbornly activate (which sounds like a 90s aerobics workout): ie 25g fresh or 10g dried yeast mixed in a cup with 75ml warm milk and 20 g flour and let stand for 10 minutes so that it starts to bubble. But don’t miss that phase.
While you can make pissadella ahead of time and serve it at room temperature, it is is best warm from the oven. It will seem like a faff to spread the anchovy fillets on a plate and cut them in half in preparation for the grilling, but trust me, trying to get them out of the pot is tricky after a negroni, and you might get distracted be by the doorbell or by someone moving the couch.
Pissadella – tomato, anchovy, onion and olive pie
Preparation 30 minutes
To get up 1 hour 30 minutes
Cook 60 minutes
Serves A lot
20 g fresh or 10 g dried yeast
75ml milkwarmed up
500 grams of flour
10 tablespoons olive oil
2 onionspeeled and cut into half moons
1 garlic cloveunpeeled and beaten, but left whole
800 g ripe tomatoespeeled and roughly chopped (or 2 400g cans, drained)
12 anchovy fillets
Mix the yeast, warm milk and a spoonful of flour in a cup and let stand for 10 minutes so that the yeast activates and begins to bubble.
In a large bowl, mix the yeast mixture with the rest of the flour, four tablespoons of olive oil, a good pinch of salt and plenty of warm water to form a soft, slightly sticky dough. Rub a work surface with oil and place the dough on it, then use oiled hands to fold and knead gently – it should be soft and a little tricky to handle, but the oil will help. Wash, dry and oil the bowl and place the dough in it again for an hour to rise.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a frying pan and gently fry the onion and garlic until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the tomatoes and cook until soft and the water has evaporated.
Grease a large baking tray with oil, place the dough in it, spread with oiled fingers and press into place – it should be about 1cm thick all over – then let rise for a further 30 minutes. Divide the tomatoes on top and bake for 40-60 minutes at 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6.
Meanwhile, cut the anchovies in half lengthwise. When the bottom comes out of the oven, make a diagonal grid pattern with the anchovies and place an olive in the center of each diamond.