What do you get when you melt peppers, onions, and garlic in olive oil over heat that caresses, then wrap the mixture in buttery pastry and bake again? Frita!
Frita From the Maghreb
Frita is a dish from the Maghreb, and I know it through the hands of my Algerian friend, Dalila, a wonderful cook who has introduced me to the specialties of her childhood.
So Much Deliciousness
During Ramadan her chorba – a spice-rich soup that ends the daily fast after a bowl of sweet café au lait and a plate of dates – is legendary. She showed me how to roll couscous in boiling, salted water and butter then steam it, gently and with love, so it nearly floats off the plate. She gave me her secrets for the lamb-based soup traditionally served with couscous, and she taught me how to make the date-filled cookie makroud, almost a meal in themselves.
Frita is just one of Dalila’s specialties, and I’ve made it my own. I follow her recipe which is the gold standard, but since frita is many things to many cooks, I occasionally adapt it. Dalila calls the whole tart frita, and fills it with just red bell peppers, garlic, and olive oil. Here, I’ve added an onion to the filling. Sometimes frita is simply a condiment similar to Dalila’s; another cook might melt red and green bell peppers with garlic and tomatoes, and served this with semolina flat bread; another will skin the peppers, then toss them with olive oil and garlic to serve as a salad.
No Season/All Seasons
Frita really has no season, since red bell peppers are a year-round commodity here.
Because of its year-round availability, the red bell pepper and the dishes it inspires, like frita, end up being a perfect appetizer or first course for the holidays. Dalila’s pastry-wrapped version of frita, with its golden exterior that hides the rich red interior, makes it a festive offering as a first course with salad or, once cool, cut into bite-sized pieces and serve with champagne.
Frita is a staple in my repertoire, a dish that I serve whenever I want something just a little bit rich, just a little bit special, just a lot beautiful and flavorful. Its origins are humble yet like so many simple dishes it can also be elegant, refined, and the perfect thing for a lovely, celebratory meal.
Make it, love it, BON APPÉTIT!
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RED PEPPERS, ONION, AND GARLIC IN PASTRY - FRITA (POIVRONS ROUGES, OIGNON, AIL) EN PÂTE
- One recipe for Tender Tart Pastry - see video
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 pounds (1 kg) red bell peppers, seeds and white pith removed, cut in narrow strips
- 1 medium onion diced
- 2 garlic cloves green germ removed if necessary, coarsely chopped
- Fine Sea salt
- Divide the pastry in half. Roll out half the pastry to an 11-inch (27.5cm) circle and fit it into a 9-1/2 inch (24cm) removable bottom tart pan, leaving the pastry hanging over the edges of the tart pan. Roll out the remaining pastry to a 9-1/2 inch (24cm) round. Refrigerate the prepared tart pan and the round of pastry.
- Place the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add the pepper strips and the onion, toss so they are coated with oil, and cook until the peppers are tender and the liquid they exude has almost all evaporated, about 17 minutes. Add the garlic, season lightly with salt, stir, and cook, partially covered, until the garlic has melted into the peppers and onion, and the peppers are completely tender, about 50 minutes. Adjust the seasoning and remove from the heat. Let cool to room temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 425 F (220 C).
- Remove the prepared tart pan and the round of pastry from the refrigerator and turn the pepper and tomato mixture into it, smoothing it out so it is in an even layer. Place the round of pastry atop the pepper and tomato mixture, and bring the edges of the bottom pastry over the edges of the top pastry. Press the pastry edges gently together then crimp them so they are attractive. Poke several holes in the top of the pastry and place the tart on a baking sheet.
- Bake the tart in the center of the oven until the pastry is golden and cooked through, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove the tart from the oven, remove the ring from the tart pan, and let the tart cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Transfer the tart from the tart pan to a serving platter, and serve.