‘I don’t want to go bowling!’ My son stamped his foot.
‘But bowling?’ he howled. ‘Who goes to France to go bowling?’
Well, I guess he had a point. When the Bullhogs visit the cousins in France we do whatever the French do, not just what your average American tourists would. We do family things, like playing miniature golf and taking walks in the countryside. Kid things, like making lavender water and catching hummingbird moths and sometimes going to see the donkey who lives in a field down the way. It’s just not normal.
And for food? If we’re not cooking at home, we often go out for pizza – which I don’t think of as particularly French – but it seems to work well for everyone. A few years ago, we found a pizzeria with a view of the Ardéche River as it flowed through the town of Aubenas. The kids played nearby in the grass. In a happy fug, we sat back devouring woodfired pizzas that came out thin and fresh and delicious while the town’s stone walls and turrets turned brilliant yellow in the evening sun. For a moment, peace reigned.
But bowling? Just once and for a change, my son and I are in agreement.
‘Naah,’ I say to him. ‘Forget the bowling. Let’s go get pizza. After all – it’s such a French thing to do!’
Here’s my take on a hot French pizza. The crust is enriched with egg and butter to complement the pizza’s creamy style. Onion is slow cooked for sweetness. And the prosciutto? Okay, it’s not French at all, but it’s so good on any pizza; in the absence of real French bacon, it works beautifully. Enjoy!
French Flambé Pizza: Onion and Prosciutto with Cream Sauce
Makes 2 pizzas, 12” diameter
For the dough:
3 Tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature
12 ounces (about 2 ½ cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ cup water
1 teaspoon dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt (1½ if using unsalted butter)
½ cup flour for bench work
For the cream sauce:
2 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons flour
12 ounces (1½ cups) lowfat milk
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
For the toppings:
16 ounces of yellow onions, chopped
2 Tablespoons butter
5-6 ounces of prosciutto (or ham or bacon as desired)
5-6 ounces of Comte cheese (Gruyere)
Make the dough: In a mixer, use a flat beater to cream together the butter and egg. After a minute, add a small amount of flour and a little of the water, and alternate small amounts of water and flour until all is incorporated. Put in the salt and the yeast and beat for one more minute. Now switch to a dough hook, scrape the bowl and the beater, and run the mixer on low for 10 minutes. This dough is too wet for the dough hook to pick it up all the way, but no worries.
Clean off the dough hook, cover the bowl and let dough rest for an hour at room temperature.
Flour a work surface and have a dough scraper handy. Pour the dough onto the floured surface and, using the scraper, clean the bowl. Wash and dry mixing bowl and scraper. (For sticky doughs like this, I have a second scraper to clean the first.)
Shove the dry scraper under the edge of the dough and fold over the top. Do this quickly and go around until there are several folds of dough in a mound. Sprinkle more flour as necessary to keep everything from sticking. Knead for a few minutes with your hands, keeping flour on the dough.
Put the dough back into the mixing bowl, cover and let rise at room temperature for 2 ½ hours.
For woodfired pizza: Start your fire. By the time the pizzas go in, the fire should be at least 2 hours old. Build a fire in the center of your oven, and in the last 30 minutes, move the fire side to side to heat the bottom tiles. Add 6 well-seasoned sticks about 1½” in diameter 10 minutes before firing the first pizza. When you are ready to bake, spread your mature fire into a horseshoe shape at the back of the oven, using the 6 sticks to maintain the fire. Add 4 more sticks at this point and brush the center floor of the oven well. The side walls of your oven should be turning white if your oven is up to temperature.
Form dough balls: Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and divide into two balls. Let dough balls sit under a cloth until ready to use.
Make the toppings: Melt butter over medium heat in a sautee pan, add chopped onions and raise the heat to medium high. Quickly stir as onions brown, getting uncooked onions down to the pan surface and, when all the onions are lightly browned, turn the heat to low. Let simmer in their juices for at least 30 minutes.
Make the cream sauce: Melt butter over medium low heat in a sauce pan, add the flour and stir to make a roux. Add a few tablespoons of the milk and, when hot, stir it into the roux. Add more milk ¼ cup at a time and incorporating when hot, until you have used all the milk. Make sure before any cold milk is added you have smoothed all the lumps to get the best results. Add salt and pepper, remove from heat and cover.
For baking in a conventional oven: Use a pizza stone or put quarry tiles in a 3×2 pattern on the center rack of your oven and preheat for 30 minutes at 425º.
Make the pizza: Stretch dough out on the floured counter with your fingers, pushing lightly, until you have a 14” round. Roll the outer 1” edge over to form decorative rims around the pizzas. Now move to floured peels. (You might want to do one pizza at a time, as I did, leaving the other pizza blank under the cloth.)
Smooth half the cream sauce to the rim of each pizza with the back of a spoon. Spread evenly with half the onion and half the prosciutto and then sprinkle with half of the Comte cheese.
Bake the pizzas: In the woodfired oven this pizza will take 6 or 7 minutes, and needs to be turned after 3 minutes. In a conventional oven, it will take 10 to 12 minutes, and needs to be turned after 5 minutes. Slip one pizza at a time directly onto the clean woodfired oven floor or quarry tiles (or pizza stone). Turn with a metal peel or 2 metal spatulas, remove when done to a round metal pan and let sit 5 minutes before slicing.
Enjoy your pizza. Oh, I mean – Bon appétit! It’s such a French delight, after all.