The key to making this onion-anchovy tart from Nice is not to be in a hurry. It takes time to bring the onions to golden, melt-in-the-mouth perfection. While the onions are cooking, you will make an anchovy-garlic paste known as pissala as well as the dough.
All in all, it took me an hour and 40 minutes to prepare and bake the tart. For the onions, choose a blonde variety if possible. Mince finely and cook very slowly over low heat, keeping an eye on the pan as they must not brown.
The pissala may be purchased if you happen to be in Provence. Otherwise you can make it yourself using the recipe below, which by the way is not classic but rather my adaptation.
Likewise, the olives traditionally used with this tart are the small niçois variety, which are not easily available outside the region. The best substitute is Greek olives, preferably the wrinkly, dry-cured variety. Or use any black olives.
The dough is made using baking powder rather than yeast, and needs no rising time. You can use store-bought pizza dough if you prefer, but … first, you won’t save time, and second, you will not achieve the same results.
You will need a large round or rectangular tart pan, or several small round tart molds. I used an 11-inch (28-cm) round tart pan. A pan with a removable rim makes for prettier presentation, but is not necessary.
Serve the pissaladière as a first course accompanied by a salad of tender leaves; as part of a summer buffet spread, perhaps with eggplant caviar, tomato salad and green bean salad; or cut into little squares to serve with an apéritif, for example chilled rosé. The quantities below will serve 4-6 people, or 8-10 at cocktail hour.
For the filling:
2 pounds 3 ounces (1 kilo) onions
5 tbsp. olive oil
a few branches thyme or 1 tsp. herbes de Provence
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. sugar
freshly ground black pepper
For the pissala and decoration:
1 jar anchovy fillets
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
1 tbsp. water
12 black olives
For the dough:
1-3/4 cup (230 g) plus 2 tbsp. flour
1 tbsp. (1 sachet) baking powder (levure alsacienne)
pinch of salt
2/3 cup (120 ml) milk
1/4 cup (50 ml) water
5 tbsp. olive oil
Begin by making the filling. Peel and halve the onions. Slice finely crosswise. Swirl 1 tbsp. olive oil over the bottom of a large skillet. Add the onions and cook over very low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. This will ‘sweat’ the onions.
During this stage of cooking the onions, make the pissala. Remove the anchovy fillets from the jar, shake off the oil and set aside eight fillets to use later for decoration. Place the remaining fillets in a blender. Peel and chop the garlic, and add. Add the olive oil, vinegar and water. Pulse to make a smooth purée. Set aside.
Returning to the onions, add the remaining 4 tbsp. olive oil, the thyme or herbes de Provence, the salt, pepper and sugar. Stir well to blend. Continue cooking for 40-45 minutes until the onions are golden, stirring regularly to ensure that they do not brown.
During this stage of cooking the onions, make the dough. Measure the flour into a large bowl. Add the baking powder and salt. Using a large spoon, make a well in the middle. Combine the milk and water in a separate bowl, and pour gradually into the well, stirring as you go. When the dough has come together, stir in the olive oil one spoonful at a time. Knead briefly. Form into a ball.
Brush the bottom and sides of your tart pan with a little olive oil. Flatten the ball of dough in the center of the pan. Using your fingers, press it out to cover the bottom of the pan. If the dough tears, simply pinch it together. If it’s too stickly, sprinkle a little flour over the surface. Now push the dough up the sides of the pan, again fixing any splits.
It’s time to return to the onions. When they are golden, remove from heat. Extract and discard the thyme stems and bay leaf.
Preheat the oven to gas mark 7 (400 F, 210 C).
Now you will assemble the tart. Using the back of a spoon, spread the pissala over the dough. Add the onions and spread over the surface. Decorate the tart using the anchovy fillets you set aside. Scatter with olives.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until the dough is golden. Allow to cool slightly before serving. Serves 4-6 as part of a meal, or 8-10 at cocktail hour.