Because pissaladière is Nice.
To crack the code of the classic Niçoise pizza-tart, one must first master the art of caramelising onions and kneading balls of dough. And who better to help than food writer and cooking teacher, Rosa Jackson, the English-speaking expert on Niçoise cuisine. I visited her charming cooking school, Les Petits Farcis in Vieux Nice, to learn the art of Southern French street food and drool over her cooking utensils.
Throw on an apron and take note of these top tips! If nothing else, cutting 6 onions is an excuse to have a jolly good cry.
PART I: THE ONIONS
Take 6 good-sized yellow onions. Cut them in half through the root and thinly slice them cut side down. To avoid floods of tears, the trick is to keep the root on and use an exceptionally sharp knife to release less enzymes.
Use the right pan
Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a wide, heavy-bottom metal pan. It’s the direct contact with the metal pan that gives the onion slices beautifully browned, caramelized edges. Without letting the oil get too hot, add the onions and keep on a low heat. Add a little sea salt to help the onions release their juices and throw in a bay leaf and some sprigs of thyme to give them some lovely flavour while they soften.
I love Rosa’s trick! Take a large square of parchment paper, and fold into a triangle again and again until you have a cornet shape. Positioning the tip at the centre of the pan, trim the excess parchment hanging over the edge of the pan. Unfold the paper and presto! A round piece of parchment that will fit perfectly over your onions. This will keep the juices in while allowing the right amount of moisture to evaporate.
The “mellowing” process means a good hour of onion babysitting. But don’t stir them too often – you want the heat from the pan to slowly pull out the onions’ natural sugars. About 30 minutes in, the slices should begin to turn golden brown on the bottom, which is when you scrape the pan and stir. Take a break and let the undersides brown (not burn) before scraping and stirring again until they’re perfectly caramelised.
PART II: THE DOUGH
Mix your ingredients
1/3 cup warm water, 1 tbsp dry yeast, 1 tsp sugar, 1 1/2 cups bread flour, 2 tbsp good quality olive oil, 1 tbsp salt & 1 egg at room temperature.
In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water with a pinch of sugar until it starts to activate and small bubbles appear on the surface. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and sugar. Make a well in the center and add the olive oil, egg and yeast-water mixture. Combine to form a dough.
All you knead is love
Drizzle a flat surface with olive oil and spend 5 minutes kneading the mixture with the heel of your hand. And be nice to your dough! As Rosa reminded me, it’s the body of Christ and you don’t bash the body of Christ. If it sticks to the surface, use your dough scraper to unstick it (what do you mean you don’t have one of these?). When it’s soft as a baby’s bottom, place it in a bowl with a lid and store in a warm place for at least 45 minutes until the onions are ready and the dough has risen nicely. Using your hands, press the air out of it and then cover it with a dishtowel and leave it to relax for a few minutes. Roll it out on a floured surface, gently “persuading” the dough until it forms a nice thin layer, then place on a baking sheet on your tart tray.
PART III: DOUGH MEETS ONIONS
Spread the onions right to the edge of the dough. Add a few anchovies and Niçoise olives – bop, bop, bop – and bake for around 20 minutes in a 200C or 400F oven. If I lost you at “anchovies”, bear with me. Salty anchovies compliment the sweetness of the onions… plus pissaladière comes from the word ‘pissala’, niçoise for anchovy paste. Thems the rules.
The side salad featured here is a rocket-pear-pine nut-goat cheese creation that Rosa threw together while I blinked.