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Cook This: Three recipes from Montreal restaurant Elena, including a phenomenal pizza al taglio

Make Kale! Caesar!, Ode to Ops pizza al taglio and Dante chicken thighs from Salad Pizza Wine by the team at Elena

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Our cookbook of the week is Salad Pizza Wine by Janice Tiefenbach, Stephanie Mercier Voyer, Ryan Gray and Marley Sniatowsky. Read an interview with the authors.

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Jump to the recipes: Kale! Caesar!, Ode to Ops pizza al taglio and Dante chicken thighs.

Elena’s Neapolitan-style pies notwithstanding, this Kale! Caesar! salad is the most popular menu item at the lauded Montreal pizza and pasta spot. “People absolutely love it and swear by it and are obsessed with it — to what I would normally say is an unhealthy level, except it’s kale and tahini. It’s totally not an unhealthy thing,” says co-owner and sommelier Ryan Gray, laughing.

The salad — a mix of radicchio, Tuscan and baby kale — has been on Elena’s menu since Day 1, says Salad Pizza Wine co-author Stephanie Mercier Voyer: “The dressing is incredible. I love that salad. We can’t take it off the menu, ever.”

When chef Janice Tiefenbach started testing recipes for the restaurant, which co-author Marley Sniatowsky and Nora Gray co-owners Emma Cardarelli and Ryan Gray opened in February 2018, including Tuscan kale was a must. “I really discovered that ingredient working at Nora Gray. I didn’t know kale could be kind of tender. I thought it was always rough and like a toothbrush for your insides,” says Tiefenbach, with a laugh. “But the Tuscan kale, I found so delicious and so versatile as an ingredient. It became one of my favourite things to cook with.”

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In creating the dish, Tiefenbach played with ways of approaching a classic Caesar salad (“one of the most delicious things that exists”) from another angle. Tuscan kale wasn’t too far off a hearty lettuce like romaine, she says. And instead of the conventional dressing — essentially a flavoured mayonnaise — she achieved a similar savoury depth with tahini (and no anchovies).

Right away, Tiefenbach knew it was going to work. “It checks all the boxes. It felt like a pop song.”

Salad Pizza Wine by Janice Tiefenbach, Stephanie Mercier Voyer, Ryan Gray and Marley Sniatowsky
Salad Pizza Wine by Janice Tiefenbach, Stephanie Mercier Voyer, Ryan Gray and Marley Sniatowsky tells the story of lauded Montreal pizza spot, Elena. Photo by Appetite by Random House

At Elena, they make their pizzas with naturally leavened dough, using sourdough starter as the leavening agent. In Salad Pizza Wine, the authors include both naturally leavened and yeasted versions of their Neapolitan and Roman-style pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice).

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Their custom-built oven reaches 900 degrees, which is ideal for making blistered Neapolitan pizzas. If you’re using a home oven, though, Tiefenbach recommends making pizza al taglio. “It lends itself much better to the home oven setup. The higher hydration dough doesn’t dry out as much in the oven.”

The leoparding (charred blisters) that many people look for in a thin, Neapolitan crust is the result of intense heat. “You can get a great result with an Ooni oven, or some other kind of pizza oven that they have for home cooks are also amazing. But if you’re just using a conventional oven that maxes out around 450, 500 degrees, it’s really hard to get the same result.”

(They tested the Neapolitan recipe in a home oven, Mercier Voyer adds, and explain how to get the best outcome in Salad Pizza Wine.)

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The authors share 16 different pizzas in the book, and all can be adapted for either type of dough. The one we’re featuring, Ode to Ops — “a real sleeper hit” — is Elena’s homage to the cicero pizza their friend Mike Fadem makes at Ops, a wood-fired pizzeria in Brooklyn.

With onions at their sweetest, it’s an ideal showcase for a spring ingredient that’s usually in the background. “When you do them on pizza like that, it’s crazy how good it is,” says Gray. “Because there’s so much acidity and brightness and sweetness in them, and it plays off of the tanginess and richness of the cheese. It’s just magical. And it’s fun to have something simple and really unexpected like that.”

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When Elena launched, they used their wood-fired oven to roast the likes of fish, rabbit and steak. But when the restaurant reopened after the lockdown, those dishes didn’t return. “You know what people really wanted at Elena? Pizza, pasta, salad,” says Gray. “No one misses those (roasted) dishes, but they were ready to be translated for the home cook.”

“This is something that I’ve done at home and that I would do again at home, and is easy to throw together,” says Tiefenbach of these Dante chicken thighs. “It’s a lot of bang for your buck. It’s delicious and it uses up one of the other recipes.”

Here, tossed with garlic, olive oil and onions, Dante vinegar acts as a chicken marinade. When mixed with olive oil, it becomes a vinaigrette for a salad inspired by the pizza place Tiefenbach and her family frequented when she was growing up in Thornhill, Ont.

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Mercier Voyer always has a bottle of Dante vinegar on hand. She often makes vinaigrette with it and uses it as a marinade for chicken every other week. “It’s just so simple. And then the vinegar keeps in the fridge forever.”

Gray adds: “With or without a wood-fire oven to cook them in, it’s a perfect dish for home cooks.”

KALE! CAESAR!

Kale! Caesar! recipe from Salad Pizza Wine
“This is the salad equivalent of getting catfished. All the ingredients come together to trick your brain into thinking you’re eating a delicious Caesar salad, but there’s no mayonnaise and no anchovies anywhere in the recipe,” the authors write of Kale! Caesar! Photo by Dominique Lafond

Special Equipment:
Blender

Tahini Caesar Dressing:
(Makes: 2 cups)
12 cloves garlic, divided
3 tbsp + 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
1/3 cup tahini
2 tbsp cold water
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 tsp Dijon mustard
3/4 tsp kosher salt
2/3 cup canola oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Salad:
3 cups Garlic Croutons (recipe follows)
1 bunch Tuscan kale, stems removed (about 3 cups when cut into bite-size pieces)
1 head radicchio, shredded (about 5 cups)
1 bunch baby kale, stems removed (about 2 cups)
Juice of 1 lemon
Extra virgin olive oil
Flaky sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan

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Step 1

Roast the garlic: Preheat the oven to 350F (177C). Create a pouch using foil and nestle inside it 10 garlic cloves and 3 tbsp olive oil. Seal up the foil to prevent any oil or steam from escaping. Place the garlic pouch on a baking sheet and roast in the oven until the garlic turns squishy, about 40 minutes. Remove the garlic from the oven but leave the oven on. Open the pouch to let the garlic cool down.

Step 2

Reheat the garlic croutons: Spread the croutons on a baking sheet and put in the oven to warm up while you make the salad.

Step 3

Mix the salad: In a large bowl, break the kale into bite-size pieces. Add the radicchio and baby kale and mix with your hands. Add tahini dressing to your liking (you will probably end up with extra dressing, which you can use to make the Chicken Caesar hoagie in the book), lemon juice, a generous glug of olive oil, a pinch of salt and a few twists of pepper. Toss to coat evenly. Remove the garlic croutons from the oven and add to the salad along with the grated Parmesan. Toss again and serve immediately.

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Serves: 4-6

GARLIC CROUTONS

Even though this recipe makes about 3 cups of croutons, we highly recommend doubling it right away, because you’re going to end up snacking on half of them before they’re even done cooking (it’s called taste-testing, look it up). If you plan on adding the croutons to your salad straight out of the oven, we recommend cooking them three-quarters of the way through so that they’re crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.

1/2 loaf country or sourdough bread (about 11 oz/340 g)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 clove garlic

Step 1

Bake the bread: Preheat the oven to 400F (200F). Cut the bread into 1-inch-thick slices. Place the slices on a baking sheet in a single layer and douse them with the olive oil until both sides are fairly saturated. Sprinkle both sides with the salt. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the bread is just starting to brown, turning each slice halfway through. Remove from the oven and cool slightly.

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Step 2

Make the croutons: Cut the garlic clove in half and rub it on both sides of each slice of bread to impart a bit of flavour. Cut the slices into 1-inch (2.5-cm) cubes. The croutons can be made one day ahead and stored in an airtight container.

Makes: about 3 cups, depending on the size of your loaf

ODE TO OPS

Ode to Ops pizza al taglio recipe from Salad Pizza Wine
Topped with onions, provolone and mozzarella, this pizza al taglio is Elena’s ode to Ops, a small pizza restaurant in Brooklyn. Photo by Dominique Lafond

1/2 recipe Al Taglio Pizza Dough (enough for one pizza) (recipe follows)
5 oz (142 g) aged provolone, thinly sliced
4 cups diced onions, about 1/2 inch (preferably a mix of varieties)
1 1/2 cups grated low-moisture mozzarella
Extra virgin olive oil
Flaky sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Step 1

Preheat the oven: Place a rack in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 500F (260C).

Step 2

Stretch the dough: Once your dough is done proofing and you are ready to make your pizza, stretch it as directed in the al taglio dough recipe (recipe follows).

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Step 3

Top the pizza: Scatter the provolone slices over the pizza. Top with the diced onions and mozzarella. Add a drizzle of olive oil and season with a generous pinch of salt.

Step 4

Bake the pizza: Bake the pizza on the bottom rack, moving it to the top rack halfway through, until the crust is golden brown and the onions are charred in spots, 12-15 minutes.

Step 5

Finish the pizza and serve: Drizzle the pizza with more olive oil and season with flaky sea salt and black pepper.

Makes: 1 (12 x 15-inch) pizza

YEASTED AL TAGLIO PIZZA DOUGH

Special Equipment:
Mixer (optional)
Very large mixing bowl
Dough scraper

7 cups + 3 tbsp (934 g) bread flour
2/3 cup + 2 tbsp (110 g) spelt or whole wheat flour
1 packet (8 g) active dry yeast
3 tbsp (45 ml) extra virgin olive oil, divided, + more oil or butter for greasing the baking sheets
3 cups (750 ml) water, room temperature
2 tbsp (32 g) fine sea salt
Semolina rimacinata or all-purpose flour, to dust your work surface

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Step 1

Mix the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer with a hook attachment (or in a very large bowl using a rubber spatula), combine the flours and the yeast. Add 1 tbsp olive oil and the water. Mix on the lowest setting until a shaggy mass forms. Turn off the mixer and let it rest for 10 minutes.

Step 2

Mix or knead the dough: Add the salt and continue to knead until the dough is smooth and relatively uniform, about 10 minutes. Transfer the dough to a clean surface and scrape out the mixing bowl using a dough scraper, discarding any dried bits. Generously oil that same bowl with 2 tbsp olive oil and place the dough inside. Cover the dough and rest it at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Step 3

Fold the dough and let it rise overnight: Starting with the edge farthest away from you, gently lift up and fold the dough in half over itself. (This motion should be done confidently to stretch the dough without ever tearing it.) Rotate the bowl 90 degrees and repeat the same process until the dough has been folded on itself for a total of four times, rotating the bowl after each fold. Cover the dough and rest it at room temperature for 30 minutes. Repeat the folding process two more times, resting the dough 30 minutes at the end of each folding session. The whole process should take about 1 1/2 hours. Cover the dough and let it ferment in the fridge for at least 12 hours and up to 3 days. The dough should roughly double in size during that time.

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Step 4

Divide the dough: Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface by flipping the bowl over and letting the dough slowly fall out. Using a dough scraper, divide the dough in half.

Step 5

Shape the dough: Working with one piece at a time, fold each corner toward the centre of the dough. Then fold the dough on itself twice as if you were folding a piece of paper to put in an envelope. Use the dough scraper to tuck the edges and create a smooth and even oval shape. Put the dough back in the same oiled container, seam down. Cover and chill in the fridge for one day. During this time, the dough should proof gently, becoming lighter and springier to the touch. The blobs can be stored in a lightly oiled, sealed container in the fridge for up to three days or frozen for a few months.

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Step 6

Proof the dough again: Grease two baking sheets with olive oil (or use butter for an extra-crispy bottom crust). Uncover the dough and coat lightly in olive oil. Carefully transfer each dough ball onto the baking sheets, keeping the top side of the proofed dough facing up. Using your fingertips, gently press down on the surface of dough to release some of the air. Cover with a damp towel and let it rest in a warm spot until the dough has doubled in size and become very supple, about 2-3 hours. (Note that the longer the dough proofs, the easier it will be to stretch, but it will also be more fragile.)

Step 7

Stretch the dough: Once the dough has proofed, uncover it and start stretching it by lifting it from the bottom to make sure no air gets trapped underneath. Gradually and gently stretch out the corners of the dough toward the edges of the baking sheet. Continue working with your fingertips to stretch the dough until it’s about the same size as the baking sheet. Press the dough firmly into the corners. Repeat this process with the remaining ball of dough. Your al taglio is now ready to welcome toppings.

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Makes: enough dough for 2 al taglio pizzas

DANTE CHICKEN THIGHS

Dante chicken thighs recipe from Salad Pizza Wine
“The vinegar not only helps tenderize the meat, but also keeps it from drying out. It’s a one-stop brine and marinade shop,” the authors write of their Dante chicken thighs. Photo by Dominique Lafond

Grilled Chicken:
1/3 cup Dante Vinegar (recipe follows)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil + more to finish
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 onion, sliced (about 1 cup)
7 cloves garlic, smashed
4 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Flaky sea salt

Grilled Onions:
2 large onions, quartered
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Step 1

Marinate the chicken: In a small bowl, place the Dante vinegar, 2 tbsp olive oil, kosher salt, onions and garlic. Toss to combine and set aside. In a large bowl, sprinkle the skin of the chicken thighs with the oregano and black pepper. Pour the marinade over the chicken and toss to coat. Marinate in the fridge for at least one hour and up to two days, flipping the thighs every once in a while.

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Step 2

Grill the chicken: Take the chicken thighs out of the fridge to temper for 30 minutes. Bring your grill up to medium-high heat. Remove the chicken thighs from the marinade and place them skin side up on the grill. Cook, gently flipping them after a nice colour has developed, about 6-8 minutes. Cook the skin side carefully, allowing for a nice sear to develop before moving the meat to avoid tearing the skin, about 8 minutes. Finish cooking the thighs on the edge of the grill so the meat doesn’t burn, flipping every once in a while, until the internal temperature reaches 160F (71C). Remove from the grill and rest for at least 8 minutes before cutting into it.

Step 3

Grill the onions: While the chicken is resting, coat the onion quarters with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill on each side for about 3 minutes, until the onions are tender and nicely charred but still somewhat intact.

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Step 4

Assemble the dish: Plate the chicken thighs while they are still hot and top with a drizzle of olive oil, flaky sea salt and charred onions.

Serves: 4

DANTE VINEGAR

Special Equipment:
Blender (optional)

1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1 1/2 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/4 tsp dried oregano
2 1/4 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Step 1

Make the vinegar: Whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl or blitz in a blender until smooth. The Dante vinegar will keep in the fridge indefinitely.

Makes: 1/2 cup

Recipes and images excerpted from Salad Pizza Wine by Janice Tiefenbach, Stephanie Mercier Voyer, Ryan Gray and Marley Sniatowsky. Copyright ©2023 Janice Tiefenbach, Stephanie Mercier Voyer, Ryan Gray and Marley Sniatowsky. Photographs by Dominique Lafond. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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