Thursday, June 14, 2012

Provençal Pissaladière Niçoise

Pissaladière, a delicious savoury dish originally from Nice in the South of France, the tart made with onions, black Niçoise olives and anchovies on a thin pizza-like dough. Although similar to a Neapolitan pizza, Provençal Pissaladière gets its name from the ground-anchovy condiment know as pissala, a specialty of the coastal region around Nice, was made from puréed anchovies, cloves, thyme and bay leaves, which was originally spread on the tart before baking.

lovely salty anchovy filets

Traditionally spread thick on top of the pie-shaped dish, pissala is now often replaced by toppings that include anchovy fillets, onions stewed in olive oil, black olives and sometimes a light sprinkle of strong sharp cheese such as Parmesan and herbes de provence. The crust varies from a flat-bread-style dough to ones made of puff pastry. 

Larousse Gastronomique

According to the French cooking bible Larousse Gastronomique, "good pissaladière should have a layer of onions half as thick as the base if bread dough is used; if made with shortcrust pastry the layer of onions should be as thick as the flan pastry".

Thinly sliced onions need to be cooked for at least 45 minutes to caramelize 
to a sweet golden brown

Anchovies are then arranged over the sweet onion mixture, traditionally in a lattice pattern, and each diamond is studded with a briny Niçoise olive. Some pissaladières may also use thinly sliced tomato, but for the purist it’s the sweet-salty combination of onions, anchovies and olives that truly hits the spot.

Provencal Pissaladiere
Serves 4

For the pizza dough:
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt

For the topping:
1/4 cup olive oil
12 yellow onions, peeled, halved and very thinly sliced
4 Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 sprigs each of thyme, basil, oregano, rosemary
1/4 cup Pastis
1/3 cup oil-cured French black nicoise olives, pitted
30 anchovy fillets

Place the yeast in the warm water in a small bowl and let stand for 5 minutes. Place in stand mixer fitted with the dough attachment. Add the oilve oil flour and salt in and start mixing on low speed. Add a little bit of water if you feel like the dough is still dry (should be smooth and elastic. Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and knead for several minutes until the dough is form but smooth with no visible cracks from lack of moisture. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a damp towel. Allow dough to rise in a warm, draft free spot for about 1 hour.

In the meantime prepare the topping. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions and season with salt and pepper. 
Add the herbs plus 8 anchovies and let the onions cook and caramelize for 45 minutes to an hour, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Add the pastis continue cooking until the moisture has evaporated, about 10 more minutes. Remove the herbs and set aside.

Preheat to 375°F. Roll the dough on a floured surface into a thin 10x15-inch rectangle. Transfer the dough to an inverted baking sheet dusted with cornmeal or covered with a sheet of parchment paper. Cover dough with a damp cloth and let rest for 10 minutes.

When ready, spread the soft, golden onions inside the inner rectangle. Evenly space a single layer of sliced tomatoes over the top, then lay the anchovies in a diamond pattern over them — you can slice them in half lengthways and use fewer for a less strong flavour — and scatter over the thyme and olives. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the edges are golden and puffy, and the base is crisp.

This tart is delicious hot or cold. Tiny Pissaladieres are a great idea for a cocktail party or as a first course for a dinner party.