Anyone lucky enough to holiday in the south of France will have come across this delicious and ancient flatbread. Truly the ancestor of pizza, this is the actual “loaves and fishes”, the manner in which the ancient staple foods of the Mediterranean, wheat bread, salted fish and olives/olive oil were consumed… and what better way to eat them!
Originally, pissaladiere (also called pissaladina)) was made with a paste made from brined tiny fish, thyme, cloves, pepper and bay leaves. The paste, pissala, is a lost food evidently, or rarely available around Nice, and anchovy fillets have replaced it on the flatbread. The pissala was smeared on the bread dough which was then covered with sliced onions which had been soaked in olive oil. Today the Onions are usually pre-sauteed in olive oil.
The spices are fascinating and date the dish to at least medieval but more likely Roman. It’s the cloves really, rarely used in this way anymore, but a favourite in ancient Rome and still in the south of France such as in the delicious beef dish from the camargue, the broufado.
To replicate the original flavour of the pissala, add the herbs and spices while sautéing the onion. As the onions soften, the slightest waft of cloves indicates this is different, not a “usual” aroma/flavour, but a very old one and very good.
Anchovies vary a lot, try and get the best, but even the cheap salty ones taste alright on this because the sweet onions and warm fresh dough cushion their briny intensity.
The best pissaladiere is made with a sourdough base…this is original and authentic and on a taste test, clearly superior. The base is mostly made with yeast today, the better ones with a long ferment. This is really a focaccia and all of the last post about focaccia applies here, until the last instance when the anchovies and onions are added. It is easy to make pissaladiere if you are making bread as well…simply take away some dough, or make twice as much.
The pissaladiere is a brilliant snack, hors d`oeuvres or Lunch. It keeps remarkably well. The wonderful flavour gives insight into how good a “pizza” can be, and yes it is termed an “anchovy and onion” pizza by some! Other flavours such as capers and garlic are added to the onions often, and even Tomato passata and evidently in Liguria, mozzarella.
I really appreciate this flavoursome simple model.