Written 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 comfort food.
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.
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.”
Though the traditional recipe calls for homemade phyllo dough (a day-long commitment), most grocery stores carry quality frozen phyllo dough, making this traditional dish even more convenient and user-friendly.
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.
- 2 large Vidalia or yellow onions
- extra virgin olive oil
- 3 (14 1/2-ounce) cans stewed tomatoes, drained
- 1-2 tablespoons dried oregano
- 1-2 tablespoons dried basil
- 1 package phyllo dough, thawed in the refrigerator
- 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano, or more to taste
Make the tomato and onion ragout:
- Peel and thinly slice the onions.
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large cast iron skillet, Dutch oven, or heavy-bottomed sauté pan over medium-low heat.
- Stir in the onions. Cook until they are soft and caramelized, stirring occasionally. You can't rush this; it takes about 1 hour to 90 minutes. Reduce the heat to low if the onions are burning instead of slowly caramelizing.
- Add the drained stewed tomatoes to a large bowl.
- 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.
- Stir the caramelized onions into the tomatoes.
- Add 2-3 tablespoons (depending on your taste) of dried oregano and basil to the tomato and onion ragout.
Make the pizza:
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Generously smear 2 tablespoons olive oil to coat the bottom and sides of a 9x13-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 a quarter of the 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 another quarter portion of the ragout. Repeat until you have 4 layers.
- Cover the final portion of tomato and onion ragout with 2 more sheets phyllo dough, brushed with olive oil.
- Sprinkle Pecorino Romano evenly over the dough.
- Fold the draped sides of the phyllo dough and roll inward to form a high-sided crust for the pizza pie.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes, checking the crust after 20 minutes as phyllo browns quickly.
- When the crust is golden brown, remove and cool for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
The ragout can be made up to 2 days in advance. Keep refrigerated and bring to room temperature before spreading in the pie.
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