One of my wife's favorite appetizers when we have company is Pissaladiere, a caramelized onion tart from Provençe. She enjoys the combination of sweet, salty and savory tastes, and the soft and firm textures. To me, Pissaladiere is a perfect example of how flavors can be built, each upon the last, to give an exciting dish with variety and depth. I liken it to a canvas painted in shades of sienna, umber, and ochre, with a few bright notes. If you know the art of Didier Lourenço, his paintings El Descanso or El Limon are examples of what I mean.
As cooks, our pigments are the flavors that we use. By choosing flavors that work together, we build depth. The taste of the food changes on the palette, giving variety and perspective. There are many examples of this; in rich stews, in sweet pastries and in hearty soups.
So, the recipe which I use for Pissaladiere starts with onions which are caramelized to a deep nutty brown, creating incredible flavors and sweetness. Just before the onions are done, I add garlic and rosemary, which complement the onions and bring their own hues. The rosemary, particularly has both deep and bright, grassy accents. The pizza crust gives a crunchy counterpoint to the soft filling, and the toppings of anchovies, parmesan cheese and olives bring more hues, all in the same palette as the onions but with enough variety to build an interesting picture.
|2||Cloves||Garlic -- minced|
|1/2||Tsp||Dried Rosemary -- ground|
|1||Tsp||Active Dry Yeast|
|20||Canned Anchovies -- drained and halved lengthwise|
|24||Niçoise Olives -- optional, pitted and sliced|
|2/3||Cup||Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese|
- Peel, and halve the onions. Slice them into thin strips. Heat a sauté pan to medium heat and pour in the two teaspoons of olive oil. Add the sliced onions. Cover and allow to steam down, 10 - 15 minutes, being careful to reduce the heat if they start to brown. Remove the cover and continue to cook the onions down, stirring frequently and progressively reducing the heat as they brown until they are evenly softened and browned to a tan color. The volume will be greatly reduced. Add the garlic and rosemary, season lightly with salt and pepper and cook, stirring for two more minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
- Meanwhile, make the dough for the crust. Completely dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Proof for 5 minutes to make sure it is still active. Either by hand or using the dough hooks of an electric mixer, stir 1 cup of flour into the yeast mixture. Sprinkle the salt over and continue to mix. Stir in another cup of flour, continuing to mix. Add the olive oil and mix until completely blended. Add the last 1/2 cup of flour and knead to an soft dough, adding more flour, only if necessary. Clean the bowl, oil lightly and then place the dough in, turning it to make sure it is completely coated with oil. Cover with a plate or plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise in a warm place for about one hour, until doubled in volume.
- Preheat the oven to 425ºF(220ºC).
- When the dough has fully risen, punch it down and allow it to rest five minutes. If using a cookie sheet, oil it lightly and then press the dough out to cover the bottom. If using a baking stone, shape the dough out to a rectangle as large as the stone will easily permit. Sprinkle some corn meal on a pizza peel and put the dough on top, or place the dough on a piece of parchment paper on top of the peel.
- Spread the cooled onion mixture evenly over the surface of the dough, leaving a thin edge. Sprinkle with the parmesan cheese. Lay the drained anchovy fillets onto the onions to form a lattice. If using the olives, place a slice in the center of each lattice square.
- Slide the pissaladiere onto the baking stone or place the cookie sheet into the oven and bake 15 to 20 minutes, until the cheese and the dough rim are nicely browned.
- Remove from the oven and brush the rim lightly with olive oil.
- Allow to cool until warm before serving. Slice into pieces about 3"-4" (7.5cm-10cm) square.
Try this recipe and see how, as a cook, you can paint rich lively canvases of taste.
As an after-note, I keep getting hits from people looking for how to pronounce "Pissaladiere". The pronunciation is "pee-salad-YAIR".