Written and Photographed by Rebecca Mano
The words “Albanian pizza” sound strangely familiar and yet vastly different from your ooey gooey cheesy topped dinner table favorite. Otherwise known as tomato and onion pie, Albanian pizza is tantalizingly rustic, a simple combination of flavors. The substitution of phyllo dough for traditional semolina dough adds a unique and savory twist to a well-known favorite.
As an honorary Albanian via marriage, I was fortunate to share a family recipe that spans four generations. A versatile dish, my father-in law grew up enjoying this household staple for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Though the traditional recipe calls for homemade phyllo dough (a day-long commitment), most Greek specialty stores and grocery stores carry quality readymade phyllo dough—my favorite brand is Athens Greek Fillo Dough—making this traditional dish even more convenient and user-friendly.
The big surprise was how delicious a pizza that didn’t include cheese on its list of ingredients could be. How could a pie with just tomatoes and onions offer enough satisfying flavors? I was sorely mistaken. This dish is truly a testament to how simple ingredients can create a larger-than-life taste. After my first experience preparing Albanian pizza, I quickly changed my cooking mantra to “keep it simple and keep it fresh.”
Depending on the type of onions as well as the proportion of onion to tomato you can make this pie your own. Vidalia onions are the typical choice and, since my typical Irish constitution is so unlike my husband’s Albanian stomach of steel, I’ve found their sweetness to be the perfect complement to the tangy tomatoes. However, if you prefer a more biting, sharper taste, my father-in-law confirms yellow onions are a perfectly fine alternative. The sharper the onions, the longer they should cook to release their natural sugars and caramelize a bit.
My personal contribution to this dish is Pecorino Romano—though it’s traditionally a non-dairy pizza, I could not resist adding a touch of fromage. Freshly grated aged Pecorino Romano adds a nutty, saltiness that’s perfectly paired with dried or fresh basil and oregano for garnish.
Leftovers (as with most dishes) are even more flavorful. Even if you’re a fan of cold pizza for next-day breakfast, give this a try: The best way to reheat Albanian pizza is to pan sauté a slice with some olive oil and press it down with a panini press or hot cast-iron pan. The thinness of this pizza pie further melds the ingredients, bringing out a medley of fresh flavors.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 2 hours
Makes 8 servings
- extra virgin olive oil
- 2 large onions
- 3 (14.5-oz.) cans stewed tomatoes, drained
- dried or fresh oregano to taste
- dried or fresh basil to taste
- 1 package phyllo dough, thawed
- grated Pecorino Romano to taste
Peel and slice the onions into 1/2-inch rings. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet or saute pan over medium heat, then add the onions. Cook the onions until they are soft, caramelized and all moisture is evaporated, about 1 hour to 90 minutes.
Add the drained stewed tomatoes, and with clean hands or a wooden spoon, gently break the tomatoes apart into smaller chunks. Remember, this is a rustic peasant dish, so you don’t have to go nuts and break the tomatoes into tiny tomato chunks. Slightly larger chunks are fine—just make sure you have enough filling for multiple layers. Add 2-3 tablespoons (depending on your taste) of dried oregano and basil to the tomato and onion ragout, and remove from the heat.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Generously drizzle and smear 2 tablespoons olive oil to coat the bottom and sides of a 9×13-inch baking dish.
Unroll the phyllo dough and lightly cover with a damp paper towel or dishcloth to keep the phyllo dough moist. Be careful, as too much moisture can create a congealed mess. Phyllo dough can take a few tries to get comfortable working with it, so don’t fret, but be prepared to move quickly.
Build the base of the pie crust: gently place one sheet of phyllo dough at a time across the bottom of the baking dish, letting the phyllo drape over the sides of the baking dish. Once placed, brush the entire sheet gently with a generous amount of olive oil until completely covered. Let the olive oil seep in—every layer brushed with olive oil will further enhance the flavor of this dish.
Repeat until 5 or 6 sheets have been placed and brushed with olive oil. The base should be thicker than the remaining layers and will help support the entire structure.
Cover the base with 1/3 cup tomato and onion ragout, evenly spreading the filling so every bite has a taste of caramelized onions and stewed tomatoes.
Next, layer 2-3 sheets of phyllo dough, brushing with olive oil between each sheet, then topping with 2-3 tablespoonfuls of ragout. Repeat until you have 3-4 layers. The number of layers will vary depending on the depth of your baking dish and the chunkiness of the onions.
Fold the draped sides of the phyllo dough and roll inward to form a high-sided crust for the pizza pie.
Bake for 20-30 minutes, checking the crust after 20 minutes as phyllo browns quickly. When the crust is golden brown, remove and cool for five minutes before indulging in this savory dish.