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The apéritif hour: pissaladière

June 15, 2012 | 11:01 am

I’ve always loved pissaladièrePiss ONE (1 of 1), the Provençal onion tart topped with slow-cooked onions, anchovies and olives, so I decided to make one to go with drinks for a dinner party last weekend.

I was a little under the weather that day, so I got started late. I had all the ingredients — or so I thought. I rummaged around in the cupboard for the 00 pizza flour I’d bought at Surfas months ago, but never used. I still had some salt-cured anchovies lurking somewhere in the fridge, and turned up some Kalamata olives. Not the traditional Niçoise, but they’d be fine.

I started my dough based on a recipe for pizza that Amy Scattergood (now food editor at L.A. Weekly) developed for The Times' Food section a couple of years ago. Except I forgot she leaves the dough overnight in the fridge to develop. I didn’t have a night or even a few hours, but proceeded anyway.

I add 1 package of yeast to 1 cup warm water and 1 tablespoon sugar. After a few minutes, no bubbles, which means my yeast is dead. Sure enough, the packet expiration date reads 2009. Fortunately, I find another packet dated 2011 and start over. Once the yeast mixture begins to fizz, I stir in 2 tablespoons olive oil and then mix in 2-1/2 cups flour and 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt with a wooden spoon. 

After kneading the dough until it’s soft and elastic, I put it in an oiled bowl covered with a kitchen towel to rise. Since I have just an hour and a half before people start arriving, I cross my fingers that the dough would rise fast enough. My alternative? Making a short pastry crust. I bet on the pizza dough.

Meanwhile, I put my husband to work finely slicing three large onions, instructing him to cook them in a large, heavy skillet with a splash of olive oil. They should be tender, but not browned, which could take a half hour or more.

Back to the sink to clean and filet eight or 10 anchovies (the most time-consuming part of the operation). 

I check the dough. In less than an hour, it had doubled in size. Perfect. I just might make it. I punch down the dough, divide it in half, returning the other half to the fridge for the next day. I’m in such a hurry, I don’t even bother to roll out the dough, just stretch and pull it into a thin round to fit my cast- iron pizza pan.

A spritz of olive oil, and leave it to rest for a half-hour, covered. I cut those large Kalamata olives into strips until I have half a cup, and turn the oven to 450 degrees. 

When the half-hour is up, working fast, I spread the onions over the dough, add the anchovy filets in a lattice pattern and place the olives in the center of each square. Guests are on the way. The pie goes into the oven for about 15 minutes, til the crust is browned and cooked through. Almost ready just as the doorbell rings.

My thrown-together pissaladière was a bit of an ugly duckling, but that crust — the best I’ve ever made. Light and crunchy, wonderful with those sweet onions, salty anchovies and olives, and a perfect match for Tablas Creek Vineyard’s rosé.

My question: How did Elizabeth David manage to compress her recipes into one or two prose paragraphs? She's more of a genius than I ever imagined.


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-- S. Irene Virbila

Photo: pissaladière. Credit: S. Irene Virbila / Los Angeles Times