My first experience eating pissaladière was exquisite – an experience I knew I’d always remember. It was May of 2002. My older daughter had just graduated from high school, and we took her and her sister on a tour of eastern France, from Nice in the south, ending in Paris two weeks later.
I’d always insisted that we would take the kids to Europe – anywhere in Europe – before they left home, and this was finally that trip. My husband had suggested we start with France because I’d lived there, and spoke some French still.
We booked the tour with Rick Steves – a tour company I highly recommend for many reasons. For one thing, there are only 24 people on these trips. For another, someone else does the driving for you and, the hotel reservations have been made and confirmed. And trust me, we are not “tour” people. Plus, half of the time, you’re on your own.
The name of Rick Steves tour company is Europe Through the Back Door. It’s not a traditional tour in that you get to see Europe as the Europeans do. Unless your specific tour focuses only on cities, you’re taken on back roads into villages and areas that the larger tours don’t and can’t take you. It’s very insightful and the experiences unique.
My husband and I have driven in Europe by ourselves, without a guide, but you miss out on a lot of information. Some friends I know are really good at studying before and during their trips, but my husband and I aren’t like that.
The tour guides for Rick Steves are incredibly knowledgeable people. You don’t work for him if you’re not skilled in the language, and passionate about the arts, the politics, history, and much more. We’ve also used Rick Steves in Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, and Scotland.
So back in 2002, we began our Eastern France tour by visiting Vieux Nice. After two days, we headed out of the city to Èze and had a picnic. And that’s where our guide served us local specialties that included pissaladière, which you can see in the photo on the right.
So that was my first experience. The weather was perfect, the view just stunning, my family was there and happy, and we were finally all in France!
To recreate the pissaladière, I used the recipe in this cookbook.
I’ve seen recipes that use pizza dough and also puff pastry, but whatever kind of crust, caramelized onions, anchovies and Niçoise olives are always on top.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter
1 large egg
About 2 tablespoons ice water
Scant 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds onions, thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
2 or 3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground cloves
20 – 25 small anchovy fillets
About 15 Niçoise or other small black olives
At least 2 hours before you wish to serve the tart, make the pastry: Place the flour and salt in a bowl. Use the coarse side of a box grater to grate the butter into the bowl, then toss with the flour.
Use a knife or pastry cutter to cut in the butter so that you have small buttery crumbs.
(Or, use a food processor!)
Break the egg into the bowl and mix in lightly with a fork. Add the ice water, starting with 2 tablespoons, tossing and mixing to moisten the flour. If necessary, add more water, just enough so that the dough comes together in a mass when you pull it together.
Transfer to a heavy plastic bag. Press from outside the bag to make a flat disk about 6 inches across. Seal well and refrigerate while you prepare the topping (the dough can be made up to 2 days ahead).
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly oil a shallow 13-by-9-inch baking pan.
To prepare the topping, heat the olive oil in a large heavy skillet. Add the onions, thyme, bay leaf, salt, and cloves and cook over medium heat, turning frequently, until the onions wilt and soften.
Lower the heat slightly and continue to cook: After they release their liquid, the onions will soften further, but as the liquid evaporates, the onions may start to stick – add a little water as necessary to prevent sticking (1/4 cup, or perhaps a little more).
The whole cooking process will take about an hour.
When done, the onions will be very soft and sweet-tasting. Remove from the heat, and remove and discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Set aside to cool to lukewarm.
While the onions are cooking, prepare the crust: Lightly flour a work surface and turn out the dough. Flatter the dough by banging on it with a lightly floured rolling pin, then roll it out to a rectangle a little larger than the baking pan, rolling from the center outward.
Transfer the dough to the baking pan and gently ease it into the corners. Trim off extra dough with a sharp knife. If necessary, use scraps of trimmings to patch any holes, pressing down on the edges of the patch to seal well. Prick the dough all over, about ten times, with a fork to prevent puffing, then line it with foil or parchment paper. Weight the foil with dried beans or pastry weights.
Bake the crust for about 10 minutes, until the edges are firm and just touched with color. Remove from the oven and remove the foil and weights.
Spread the cooked onions all over the bottom of the crust, then arrange the anchovies and olives on top.
Place the tart back in the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, until the edges are touched with brown and pulling away from the sides of the pan.
Let cool for at least 10 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature.
I served mine with a salad, topped with a basic vinaigrette and finely grated Parmesan.
The sweetness of the onions pairs so well with the salty anchovies and olives.
It’s truly a match made in culinary heaven.
And this crust was total perfection – delicate and flavorful.
Vive la France!