The dish is a Provençal pizza-like tart, a yeast-based dough typically topped with onions, anchovies, and French oil-cured olives. No cheese, but for a pizza addict like myself (once a week!), this dish completely hits the spot.
I decided, of course, that a blank canvas like this needs — is basically crying for — an exotic twist. Instead of making pizza dough from scratch, I like to use puff pastry because I’m a bit obsessed, but also because it saves time and forms the most perfectly thin, buttery, crunchy layer. And not to stray too far from the original, caramelized onions still form the base layer and work incredibly well with the spices and the sautéed mushrooms. The ajwain and cumin give a smoky, thyme-like kick, and the dish just pops with flavor.
I use this recipe all the time for entertaining because you can precook the topping, assemble, pop it in the oven, and have the most delicious and elegant tart in 15 minutes. I sometimes precut the pastry into little squares before cooking to make it easier. Put this out next to a cheese plate, and you are all set. Or whip it up for an easy weeknight appetizer. Enjoy!
*Note: Ajwain seeds are common in South Asian cuisine and have a flavor similar to thyme. It is also known as ajowan, bishop’s weed, or even carum seed. They look similar to celery seeds.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Heat a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil (or enough to coat the bottom of the pan) and 1 tablespoon of the butter. Once the foam has subsided, add the mushrooms and toss to coat. Cook for about 2-3 minutes until well browned. Season lightly with salt and place in a colander over a bowl to drain excess liquid and oil.
Wipe out the skillet and place over medium heat. Add the remaining oil (or enough to coat the bottom of the pan) and when it begins to shimmer, add the ajwain and cumin seeds. Fry the spices for about 1 minute, being careful not to burn. Reduce heat to medium-low, add the remaining butter, onions, crushed red pepper, black pepper, chili powder, cumin, and a generous pinch of salt. Reduce heat to low and cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions soften and caramelize. Taste and adjust seasoning. Set aside to cool for about 10 minutes.
On a floured surface, roll out the puff pastry to fit the baking sheet; it will shrink a bit as it cooks. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper and place the pastry on the sheet. Prick all over with a fork to prevent it from puffing too much.
In a bowl, beat together the egg and heavy cream and brush the puff pastry with the egg wash. Bake for 10 minutes, and remove from the oven. Let sit for 2 minutes to deflate.
Using tongs, spread the onion mixture onto the pastry being sure to leave an uncovered edge around the outside. Try not to get any excess oil or butter on the pastry. Spread the browned mushrooms on top, sprinkle with thyme leaves, and bake for another 10-15 minutes until the crust is golden brown.
Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before cutting. I like to sprinkle a little fresh fleur de sel on top before serving.