The day after Thanksgiving might not be the moment to share a recipe. Some of you will be reading this in a postprandial carb-induced stupor. But after you’re back from Black Friday consumption, you can turn to this little treasure, either for an appetizer—feeds a crowd!—or for a kind of pizza niçoise.
La pissaladièra or la pissaladière is a dish from the Mediterranean city of Nice, and like most dishes that carry the city’s name, it includes anchovies and olives. La pissaladièra is like pizza or focaccia, but topped with onions, garlic, olives, and, above all, anchovies. It can be served hot or at room temperature, which means you can make it a while in advance. For appetizers, cut small pieces.
As with many French recipes, there are several ways to go about this. Carcassonne native Prosper Montagné, the great chef who wrote the original bible of French cooking, Larousse Gastronomique, says you can make it with bread dough or with demi-feuilletage, which is a simpler form of pâte feuilletée, but still with lots of butter. Montagné says that pissaladièra (he spells it with an “a” at the end) is much more savoureuse—tasty—with demi-feuilletage. The wonders of butter. He even offers an option using stale bread, because when it was published in 1936, people did not throw away food, even stale. Yet the French always eat well, even in bad times. They have much to teach us.
Someplace (and I can’t find it! but I didn’t imagine it nor invent it but I always do it) suggested dressing up the rolled-out dough and covering it with plastic wrap so it rises again, for an even airier crust. This works very well. For pizza, I want to eject the dressed-up dough onto the stone in the oven, so it can’t sit or it sticks to the pizza paddle. But pissaladièra gets cooked in a sheet pan, so it can rest and rise with ease. If you do this, be sure to use plastic wrap and not a tea towel. I tried to be all écolo (environmentally correct) and put a clean cloth on top, but the anchovies stuck to the cloth and came off when I removed the cloth. Blech.
While pissaladièra is associated with summer, there is no good reason for that, other than that people tend to visit Nice when it’s nice. But there are no seasonal ingredients and in winter, onions are a staple. A year-round winner.Montagné says to cut out a round of dough with a kind of straight-sided mold (un cercle à flan) and then to place it in a large pie plate called a tourtière (in Canada, tourtière is a kind of meat pie, just to keep it confusing). You can make it round or square.
For all that I love and respect Montagné, he suggests only ONE garlic clove. How is that even possible? I used a head of garlic, which I broke up and cooked, the cloves still in their jackets, very slowly with the onions. First, garlic makes this a great winter dish because it’s supposed to ward off colds. Second, the unpeeled garlic kind of steams in its jacket, rendering it very tender and mild. Being a nice chef, I peeled the soft cloves before putting them on the pissaladièra, because who wants to do that when they’re about to take a bite?Last, the European way is to measure ingredients by weight rather than by volume. It’s very convenient and once you try it, you won’t go back!
Make the dough:
500 grams (3 1/4 cups) flour
2 packets of yeast
200 ml (3/4 cup) warm water
60 ml (1/4 cup) olive oil
1 tsp salt
Sprinkle the yeast on the warm water in a small bowl. In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt and olive oil. When the yeast has bubbled up, pour it into the flour mixture. Knead. Put in a large oiled bowl, cover with a tea towl and let it rest for at least an hour.
Cook the onions:
1.5 kg (3 1/3 pounds, but hey, onions are forgiving; you can go over or under) onions
At least 8 cloves to a whole head of garlic, broken into cloves with the skin still on
2 Tbs thyme
100 g (3 or 4 oz.) of black olives
10 filets of anchovies in oil (or more)
2 Tbs anchovy cream (optional)
Peel and thinly slice the onions. Heat a little olive oil in a large pot—enough oil to cover the bottom, and cook the onions over low heat. Stir in the thyme and the garlic. Cover and stir from time to time. It will take a good 45 minutes. Before the onions are finished, preheat the oven to as hot as it will go (400F or 200C).
The onions should be nice and soft, a little caramelized but not crispy, and the garlic should be completely melted. Pick out the garlic cloves and let them cool so you can peel them.
Spread the dough on a sheet pan. You can roll or use your fingers. Prick it all over with a fork. Spread the onions on the dough. Distribute the peeled garlic, anchovy filets and olives.
Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for another 30 minutes or longer.
Remove the plastic wrap and bake for about 20 minutes. Check on it; your oven might be faster or slower.
Serve hot or cold. We had it for dinner—why not?