Just after university, in the summer of 1991, I took off for an extended period to the south of France, courtesy of an extremely generous patronne who had enabled me with both an open bank account with the Credit Agricole, and accommodations in a derelict tower at the centre of a small village called Claviers, around 20km west of Nice. And it was here, or rather in the next-door town of Bargemon, that I had my very first experience of the classic Pissaladière.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. My friend Toby had procured it from one of the town’s bakeries, and presented it to me as we sat in the village square, wondering what on earth we were going to do with our lazy day, like an ersatz Gallic Sawyer and Finn. Or so we imagined ourselves. Ah, the follies of youth.
My palate wasn’t all that developed at the time, as this was before I had worked or eaten in any establishment of any real prestige. I still recall the Pissaladière tasting extremely foreign to me, as I wasn’t expecting the fishy saltiness of the anchovies. I may have regurgitated my first mouthful in a reflex action, much to the chagrin of my more well-travelled companion.
But over the years I have learned to love the intense sweetness of the fully caramelised onions, combined with the fishy tang of the anchovies, the brininess from the fish and the olives, the louche scattering of thyme leaves, the occasional intrusion of a tomato element, the crispiness of the edges of the pastry, and the slightly soggy, oily pastry concealed underneath. Over the course of a few decades it moved from being something that caused me an inherent deep revulsion, to something that has become one of my most favourite of comfort foods.
It’s also extremely easy to make.
Simply fully defrost a sheet of frozen all-butter puff pastry and placed on a lightly floured baking tray, set your oven at 380 degrees, run a knife around the edge of the pastry (around 1/2 an inch in) without cutting all the way through, slowly cook some sliced onions (around two large ones) in butter at just under medium heat for around 25 mins, spread the onions onto the centre of the pastry, lattice salted anchovies on top (giving them a quick rinse and dry first), sprinkle a little thyme (dried or fresh), and then add a few black olives and maybe a few already oven-dried cherry tomatoes and cook for around 20 minutes until the pastry becomes a golden brown colour.
Occasionally I upset the purists by adding a few lumps of goat’s cheese around half way through the cooking time, and that can really hit the spot for me.
Remove from oven and allow to cool for five minutes or more before serving. Whilst it is delicious direct from the oven and warm, the Pissaladière is just as tasty when served cold.
Pair with a bottle or two of good dry rosé from the south of France and you are good to go.
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he’s going to make some this afternoon.