This particular little flatbread comes from Provence, along the southern coast, in particular focused in the town of Nice. Though I’m not quite sure why or how its regional identity gravitated to that specific city, Pisssaladiere’s origins are not surprisingly shared with the close neighbor of Italia. Supposedly the “day of creation,” much like with Ceasar and his Coq au Vin (just switch the countries), a French Pope named Clement (those who’ve studied Chateneauf du Pape are familiar with him) travelled to Rome for business (his Chateau and office were still in France), upon which the local cooks had to scramble to make something with the new ingredients he had brought over. After taking some salted fish that was brought over, they turned it into a paste and spread it over a local flatbread, likely foccacia, finishing with cooked onions and sliced olives (local or French is unsure, likely local). The new dish was a hit, and the rest is history, with families making versions of the dish on both sides of the border. Nowadays, at least in France, the anchovies are used whole, often criss-crossed like one of our own pies, instead of sauced on.
What I find most interesting, and amusing, is the name. One’s first thought when reading it, and seeing the thin flatbread-with-toppings, is its obvious connection to “pizza.” Which, apparently, there is none. Absolutely none. I know right? I mean it’s got it in the name, just s instead of z.
Well, the name actually comes from the Latin (once more some Italian origins, and yet still no technical relation to pizza evolution) pissalat, “salted fish,” as well as pissala which is similarly “salted fish/anchovy paste.” And though the true origins of the term “pizza” is in debate, there being multiple words that it’s thought to evolve from, my research has turned up that not ONE of the theories links to Pissaladiere. So I guess we’ll just have to settle with a boring, non-pizza related French history of a salty flatbread that technically originated in Italy.
A Word On…
Anchovies:It’s not much of an anchovy dish unless one can find the GOOD anchovies. Though I can’t say much for ordering specialty French-caught and hand-preserved fishies, I know any decent quality store or market (Italian ones too) should stock some good options. Got this little jar at my local seafood place, and god they were delicious; the ‘chovies were HUGE, and actually sorta thick (not those steamrolled strips of salty paper) and meaty… so good. Did NOT get as much from the container as I thought, though, so the resulting pie was a bit lacking in toppings. Which is fine, the flavor’s quite noticeable.
Olives:I just love a good, tasty, cured olive. Whenever I find myself in a certain Italian shop, sooner or later my mouth ends up hanging over the giant buckets filled with the whole fruit in their oil/brine to sample. So when I was at a local wine and cheese shop, and saw similar quality Italian Green olives in their case, I couldn’t help buying some ahead of time for the unique dish I knew I was soon to create.
Then I actually did some research and found out that pissaladiere usually uses Black French Olives… oops. Probably could have found some too, or at least a better substitute. Oh well, at the end of the day, as far as I care with any olive dish, all one needs is a delicious, good quality variety that you love. Pretty easy to find, just don’t do it from those long buffet-trays in the nearby supermarket.
If you’re not familiar with preparing un-seeded olives, it’s easy, but depends on how attached the seed is to the flesh. Usually it’s pretty simple to smash them under the flat of your knife and pop one out, then cut your thick, not-so-perfect rings. Some will NOT cooperate, so you will have to cut around.
Onions:Looking through recipes, I’ve seen two main ways to cook the onions (white or yellow), without any real highlight on which is properly classic. There’s sautéing with herbs and garlic until soft, then getting those edges nice and golden; and then there’s just caramelizing it to the max. Due to my unsurety, and the ability to work with a whole round, I thought I’d just go ahead and do a half-and-half, see what I prefer. I mean all I needed to do was separate half the onions partway through cooking; capers, instead of heating through like the soft onions, should just be sprinkled on top of the caramelized before cooking.
Dough:Like the Flammekeuche, most recipes out there focus on some form of bread dough as the base. It’s not the only kind used though; quite a few sources list this dish as made with either Bread or Shortcrust dough (basically pie dough). In fact, when debating which style I should use, I ran across an article mentioning the commonality between French and Italian pissaladiere. Seems the only difference seen between the two, other than potential inclusions of red veggies across the border, is the French’s use of Shortcrust. Thus my decision was made; though the origins of any topping’d flatbread would begin with simple bread dough, the shortcrust makes a fun differentiation that’s still classic with the culinary interests and trends of the last couple centuries. If you want to go with a bread dough, then I suggest any decent looking recipe that uses olive oil (yeasted or not, it seems to be the one commonality).
1 Stick/4oz Butter, chilled
1 Egg, Beaten
1 Tb Water and/or Anchovy liquid
3-4 Yellow Onions
1 Tb Olive Oil
1-2 Bay Leaves
3 Cloves Garlic, chopped fine
1 Tb Capers
3-4 oz Quality Olives
1 Jar/Tin Anchovies, however much needed/desired
- To make the dough, chop the cold dough small and rub, with fingertips, into the flour until mostly “cornmeal” texture, leaving some larger lumps for flake purposes (can also do this in a food processor).
- Mix in enough of the Egg, Water, and Anchovy Oil/Liquid to bind everything together. Reserve remaining egg to the side.
- Press into a firm, flat round, chill in fridge for at least an hour.
- While this is cooling, chop onions into the desired size (I like large chunks, thin slices cook up very well though).
- Heat a pan up to Med/Med-High heat, while at the same time preheating the oven to 400F, with baking stone.
- Add Olive Oil, Onions, Bay Leaves, and Thyme, cooking until soft, 5-8 minutes depending.
- Add in Garlic and continue cooking until edges are nicely golden and caramelized. Chop capers fine, mix in, and continue to cook about 2 minutes more or until flavor is well incorporated. Turn off and let chill.
- Prep other ingredients, slicing Olives as needed and draining Anchovy Filets on paper towels.
- Remove Shortcrust dough from fridge, transfer to floured countertop, and roll to ¼” thickness. Trim to a large rectangle or circle, rolling up the edges to form a rim (one could also roll the leftover dough into thin strips and attach).
- Move to a well floured and cornmealed paddle/baking sheet to start filling.
- Fill the bottom with a thick layer of the soft onions (herb stalks removed), sprinkling the desired amount/concentration of olives on top. Arrange anchovies over in a cross-hatch pattern.
- Wash the edges with the remaining egg and transfer to baking stone in oven, cook 20-30 minutes, until lightly browned and crust is set and flaky.
- Remove, let cool a couple minutes, slice and enjoy.
I can’t say I was able to reach the ideal of what this dish should be, I mean obviously I needed WAY more anchovies (I swear it looked like there was a lot more in that jar), but the elements were still very satisfactory. I officially prefer the golden, not-completely-caramelized onion base in terms of bringing that overall Provencal flavor; plus it’s still soft without hiding the beautiful onion flavors under pure caramel. The nice, pickled and salty garnishes come out even more and make for a nice appetizer, particular with that super-flaky pie crust base. Speaking of which, I wonder if the result I got was still “traditional;” if anything I feel like I wanna go for dough more reminiscent of what’s used in many of the dessert Tartes, crispy and semi-flaky but nice and firm. If I have any leftover from one of the desserts I am sure to make in the future, I might go ahead and use it to make another pissaladiere. Because it’s delicious.
If I were to pair this dish Regionally, I might have gone with something like a Rose, as Buzzfeed well suggests, or potentially find a random white wine from the oft-unseen, not-well-known little regions that rarely meet our market to much acclaim. But I only have one rose at the moment, which I already have a specific dish in mind for, and the latter would be a giant pain to research, and even then I wouldn’t have enough confidence in my palette expectations of these wines which I’ve had no experience with.
Besides, at the end of the day I found myself craving a certain little region on the western coast of the Loire River known as Muscadet. Using the Melon de Bourgogne grape, the wines of this region are known for a particularly unique identity, especially those of the Sevre et Maine AOC. Made near the sea, using a method known as “sur lie” where the wine is allowed to rest on the settled yeasts and other particulates, it develops trace amounts of both salty and yeasty notes, along with an almost imperceptible fizz or effervescence; aspects which make it great to match the briny anchovy-olive pizza and buttery pie crust. Followed with a light body and refreshingly crisp acidity, a good Muscadet would be able to stand through any hints of richness and pungently preserved flavors without overpowering, a perfect aperitif choice.
Always a great, readily available and affordable bottle from this region, the Cognette vineyard is able to keep flavors clean, with nice notes of elderflower and pears alongside the typical yeastiness, without getting too much of that “fatty” skin feeling I find in most low-end white wines (it’s hard to describe really). Made for a nummy accompaniment to the flaky tartlette. I coulda sworn I took a picture of the glass with the sliced triangles of the pissaladiere too, but somehow it’s disappeared…
Secondary Pairing – Fino/Manzanilla Sherry
What better drink to pair with a light, super salty, coastal dish made in a hot southern region than a Fino Sherry, made in the white albariza hills of Southwest Spain, the sea breezes wafting over the stockpiles of sherry casks in the giant Solera system. Such versatile fortified wines they produce, and the completely uncolored, notably salty and acetaldehyde notes (unique yeasty, nutty, creamy notes subject almost solely to Flor-affected products, like sherry) go amazingly with a myriad of dishes, especially this anchovy-laden tarte. The body may be a bit high, but its acidity and pure, clean flavors can cut through to make one reminisce of a lighter experience. Taken in sips, like a fine brandy, a chilled Fino or Manzanilla mixes with Pissaladiere to make a stimulating start to any day of leisure.