The Pissaladière is an anchovy, olive and onion topped flat bread, which is synonymous with the city of Nice. It’s thought that the origin of the pissaladière is likely to be Genoa (Italy), where they have been eating a Pizza all’Adrea or Sardenara from the late 15th Century – this predates the Neapolitan Pizza by 150 – 200 years – the word pizza being first documented in A.D. 997. The Romans were know to have eaten panis focacius, a flat bread with toppings and this type of food can be traced back throughout the Mediterranean for millennia. In the Balearics, Cataluña and Valencia, they have their own flat bread with sweet and savoury toppings called Coca …but more on that another day.
The Pizza all’Adrea is now a tomato, caramelised onion, anchovy and olive topped pizza, named after Genoese Admiral Andrea Doria, who’s favourite food was said to be bread topped with olive oil, garlic and anchovies. The original Pizza all’Adrea definitely did not have tomato sauce on it, because they weren’t used on pizza until the late 18th Century – many people thought that the bright red tomatoes, brought back from the Americas, were poisonous! With regard to the name Sardenara, Elizabeth David states, “Originally salted sardines were part of the top dressing.”
The pissaladière takes it’s name from the original topping of pissalat, small fish, salted with herbs (such as bay leaves, thyme, fennel, oregano, savory, etc.) layered in amphora or barrels as was probably done by the Romans in the making of their condiment, garum (used with most foods). The pissalat would be sprinkled on top of the onions before baking. I’ve noticed that anchovies canned in olive oil break down naturally into something similar to a pissalat, when they’ve passed their sell by date. Being canned, I’m very much inclined to use these broken down fish as salad dressing or in casseroles – food in tins will last for years, unless the can is damaged. I remember reading that tapenade came about naturally, from capers breaking down when stored for a long time in olive oil. Elizabeth David mentions that the pissalat topping had disappeared by the 1930s and around that time in Provence, there was a choice of pissaladière with onions and black olives or tomatoes, anchovies and black olives – from her observations, it’s not hard to see the connection with Pizza all’Adrea.
I have been meaning to do a post on the pissaladière for several years, but the thing that gave me the impetus was a small purchase of fresh yeast from Bread Ahead, last Friday. There has been no yeast in all the usual shops, so a huge lump for £1 (from the baker) was a bargain! I froze half and the other piece sat in the fridge, until I remembered, that fresh yeast only lasts for a few weeks. The yeast pictured above is roughly 20g for the pissaladière dough.
Pissaladière dough recipe:
200g strong bread flour
100g 00 flour
200ml lukewarm water
20g fresh yeast (or 7g dried)
1 dessertspoon olive oil (preferably from the anchovy tin)
Before doing anything else, break up the fresh yeast and mix it with a few drops of water to form a paste. Stir the remaining lukewarm water into the paste and let the yeasty water sit for 5 or ten minutes. This helps to wake the yeast up and get it going. If using dried yeast, it’s still good to mix it into warm water ahead of adding it to flour.
Put the flour into the bowl of a food mixer with dough hook. Make a well in the middle and pour in the yeasty water. Add the olive oil – use some of the oil from the anchovies, it’s generally olive oil and is infused with anchovies and salt. Do not add any additional salt to the dough!
Allow the dough hook to do it’s work for 10 minutes, or perform the task with your hands.
The dough should be slightly sticky, but not so much that you can’t handle it. Rub a little flour on your hands and form a ball with the dough. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let mixture rest for an hour or two – the dough should double in size – the time it takes depends on room temperature and time of year. The onions take a while, so the dough should be ready by the time they are done.
4 medium to large white onions (sliced)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
20 anchovy fillets (3 or 4 tins)
20 Kalamata or other good black olives
a teaspoon fresh thyme (chopped)
1/2 a teaspoon dried oregano
a pinch of dried savory
ground black pepper
5 dessertspoons extra virgin olive oil
The onions need to be caramelised to the point where they break apart on your lips or tongue. They are absolutely full of natural sugars, so,, in my humble opinion, adding sugar defies logic – the added sugar caramelises and burns before the onions become properly soft and sticky. Four medium to large onions will reduce by at least half, if cooked slowly, ideally in a saucepan or terracotta cazuela (as above). This works much better than in a frying pan! The original volume of onions was slightly above the level of the cazuela to start with. Use lots of olive oil, including some from the anchovy tins – keep the heat very low and stir often.
I used a heat diffuser under the pan – they are cheap and available online and in good kitchen shops. It took between 90 and 120 minutes to get the onions to the perfect, sticky, sweet and golden state of caramelisation, with no burning.
When the onions are soft, add the garlic, herbs and black pepper. Cook for a further 5 minutes and allow to cool.
Remove any excess onion liquid with a spoon – this can be saved and used to enhance a casserole, gravy or sauce.
By this time the dough will have risen nicely.
Knock back the dough, to let all the air out, then form a ball, ready to roll out.
I believe the traditional pissaladière is a rectangular shape, but whatever fits your oven tray or baking stone is best. Roll out a suitable shape and unless you have a proper bread oven, I recommend baking the dough blind for about 12 minutes at 210º C. Preheat the oven first and poke holes in the dough with the tines of a fork. The dough is ready, when it has taken a little biscuity colour. Baking it blind will make the dough crisper when fully cooked. There’s nothing worse than soggy dough under a properly cooked topping. I did consider baking on a pizza stone, but thought that the olives would roll off, when I tried to get the pissaladière off a baking tray and onto the hot stone. It’s a lot easier done with a professional bread oven and a paddle.
Spread the caramelised onions onto the partially baked dough and make a lattice across the top with anchovies. Place a black olive in each of the diamond spaces made by the anchovies.
Return the pissaladière to the oven for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
Allow the pissaladière to cool a little and serve with a Salade Niçoise and a glass of chilled Côte de Provence rosé.
As an alternative to bread dough, Julia Child baked her pissaladière with a puff pastry – c’est très riche. Bon appétit!
Thank you ! Have loved to eat this ‘forever’ but, to the best of my recollection, have never made one myself. Love the easy dough and topping . . .love your square shape . . . love your point-by-point recipe description as I just have to try !! Want to read more of the history also . . . first travelling to the south of France I regarded the area as a retro- social centrum for the rich-and0famous . . . it took a few journeys to discover the wealth of tastes twixt Nice and Genoa . . . filed for keeps, Mad !
Thanks Eha – me too …and it tastes even better the next day! In my opinion, the key to the pissaladière, is the onions and under frying or poaching them in a deep saucepan, with lots of oil very slowly. The food and culture on the Mediterranean coasts of Italy, France and Spain is completely intertwined. The Provençal coat of arms, is that of Ramon Berengeur III, Count of Barcelona, and his descendants, who as Counts of Provence ruled Provence from 1112 until 1246. But I’m not saying that it’s down to the Catalans, because the Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans were there first!
Love your historical notes, so interesting.
Thanks Nadia – I should have also said, the original Count of Barcelona was probably a Visigoth, installed by the Franks.
Thanks ! I remember way back you stating somewhat the same when Spanish v French coastal cuisine came up on Rick Stein’s foodalogue . . . pretty natural when one thinks about it . . .
One of my favourites. I used to make it frequently but now living on the Côte d’Azur, I simply buy the best ones at my local boulangerie.
Thanks Nadia – I bet you do and so nice to have a choice!
Your pissaladière is a true work of art and I’m sure it was as good tasting as it is good looking.
Thanks Karen – it had a fantastic taste of sweet onion, salty anchovies and juicy olives.
Mad Dog, I really enjoyed this post. Your food history lesson was brilliant. I will be trying this, both for the sake of history and because I love pizza and anchovies. Don’t you love fresh bakers yeast? We’re all caught up here with yeast production and it is once again freely available. Hand gel on the other hand is still a struggle…
Thanks Ron – comments like that make all the research and effort worthwhile. I just got some elderflower “champagne” fermenting using natural yeast in the air. It’s going great guns too!
That’s very cool. You know we have a friend who has a yeast named after her. She’s a retired yeast researcher from Lund Uni. I bet she would like your elderflower champagne.
How brilliant! I’m photographing the process and will do a post in a couple of weeks if all goes well. Getting it to ferment with natural yeast made me very happy – the warm dry weather makes for an abundance of flowers and keeps the yeast on them. The simplicity of the recipe was what really drove me to make it.
Wow, thanks for sharing this luscious pissaladière. I think I´ll try it very, very soon indeed. I love matching anchovies with onions.
Thank you very much – I’m sure you will enjoy it!