On the last Friday of each month, my neighbors here on the Cancale harbor and I get together for our pot de l’amitié –a casual potluck cocktail party where everyone brings something to eat and something to drink (red wine tends to be the preferred beverage) that we all share. In the summer when the weather is fine, these get-togethers take place by the water and last until we all start shivering or until the incoming tide chases us away.

One of the things I love about these events is how most of the food is homemade. Even in France, you can now run to the store and pick up a prepared something or other to take to a party. But not this group. There have been quiches and cakes, puff pastry twists and pâtés…and when Françoise shows up with her far Breton (a clafoutis-like dessert with rum-soaked prunes), everyone edges in closer to be sure to get a piece.

For our most recent gathering, I made a sardine tarte flambée. Recipe purists will probably want to stop reading right now because I have taken..ahem…a few liberties with the traditional tarte flambée or flammenkuche, an Alsatian specialty made with thinly rolled bread dough, crème fraiche, onions and smoked bacon bits. (The inspiration for my recipe came from a tarte flambée, so I’m sticking with my name. If there are now such things as pineapple carpaccio and quinoa risotto, I’m just part of a larger trend.) Tarte flambées are some of the easiest things to make and share. They cook quickly in a hot oven, taste good at room temperature, and aren’t as messy as pizzas, which they closely resemble. And really, all traditionalism aside, you can top them with anything. Even canned sardines, to give them a seafood twist meant to impress my harborside neighbors.

I’m happy to say my sardine tarte flambée went over well with my neighbors. (Not as well as Marie-A’s luscious salmon quiche…but it’s hard for canned sardines to compete with fresh salmon.)

Sardine Tarte Flambée

In Cancale, I’m lucky to have an incredible assortment of canned sardines available at supermarkets and specialty shops like La Belle Iloise, which sells products from the Belle Iloise cannery in southern Brittany. La Belle Iloise has a line of sardines that you warm before serving, which is what gave me the idea for this tart/pizza/whatever. You don’t need special sardines to make it, though, and they almost pass for fresh in this recipe. Prepared pizza dough works really well here and means you can have a super-tasty hors d’oeuvre ready in under half an hour. For more flavor, you could sprinkle the tarte with herbes de Provence or add ½ tsp. chopped dried tarragon to the mustard mixture.

3 4-oz. cans sardines, preferably packed in olive oil, drained
1 16-oz. pkg. prepared pizza dough
½ cup crème fraiche or sour cream
1½ Tbs. Dijon mustard
3 medium shallots or 1 small red onion, halved or quartered and thinly sliced
fresh chopped parsley for sprinkling, optional

Preheat the oven to 450˚F (220˚F). Gently split open the sardines lengthwise down the back with a small knife to remove the small bones down the center of the fish. Set aside on a cutting board.

Roll out the pizza dough to a 17- x 12-inch (45 x 33 cm) rectangle on a floured work surface. (The dough will be very thin…that’s what you want.) Transfer to a half sheet pan or large baking sheet coated with olive oil.

Whisk together the crème fraiche or sour cream and the mustard, and season with salt and pepper. Spread the mustard mixture over the pizza dough, leaving as little room as possible. Sprinkle with the chopped shallots, then arrange the sardine fillets over top.  (Carefully! They can fall apart easily.)

Bake 10 to 15 minutes, or until the crust is browned and crisp. Sprinkle with parsley, if desired. Serve hot or at room temperature.