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My pissaladière story

"just add spring sunshine and a glass of wine" Andrew McConnell

Tonight my local book group is meeting to choose our books for next year. A major excitement in a minor life. And I always take along too many books to choose from. I think they regard this as a bit of a pain, but I think it just demonstrates my indecision. And more indecision is to follow as you will see.

As it's our last meeting of the year it's also a sort of party with everyone contributing some finger food to eat. It will be my dinner in fact. I shall probably overeat again, which is bit of a problem, seeing as how I seem to have put on almost half a kilo this week, in spite of going for four long walks last week as well as some energetic weeding in the garden. It must have been the sort of Christmas dinner with the family on Sunday. Anyway I decided to honour the two vegetarians and one vegan in the group by making something vegan. I suspect that others will bring things like spring roll and dips, and I know there will be cake - and fruit and since my 'speciality' at these things is quiche I took that as my starting point.

It can't be quiche of course, because that is loaded with butter, cheese and cream. Definitely not a vegan dish, although vegetarians can be accommodated. But I did like the idea of some kind of tart, and knew that it was possible to make olive oil pastry. Olive oil pastry - Provence - Pissaladière - onion tart with onions and olives, maybe tomatoes too. Obviously anchovies are a no no, but I thought, never mind I could substitute roasted capsicum strips for the anchovies. So decision sort of made, I started looking.

Initially I was entirely focussed on the vegan thing, but then I thought well I could make two different versions - one with anchovies and one without. Because I do like anchovies. Or could it be little tarts - perhaps more amenable to finger food - with some having anchovies and some not. Robert Carrier has a recipe with peppers and small tarts, and I also found one on the delicious. website - Little Provençal tarts with olive oil pastry from Valli Little. Both Robert Carrier's (no recipe - but I have made them in the past and they were delicious - and Valli Little's departed somewhat from the traditional onions, olives and anchovies but they did look good.

Not possible as they were though because Valli Little's pastry included Parmesan cheese, and the very nice touch of the tapenade on top would not be any good either, because tapenade usually has tuna in it. Robert Carrier also used shortcrust pastry so that was also not on. The peppers are a nice idea though. I did get a bit stuck on small tarts for a while, but then decided it was just all too fiddly. Better to go for two rectangular tarts, with an olive oil pastry.

By then I had been cruising the olive oil pastry recipes for a while, trying to decide whether it needed to be (a) rolled out - apparently not - and (b) baked blind before adding the filling. Well some did, some didn't, some didn't even grease the tin and yes, most didn't roll it out. I'm still not sure about the non greasing - I would hate for it to get stuck in the pan. After all ordinary shortcrust pastry has butter in it, which is also a fat, and that will stick if you don't grease the tin, so why wouldn't an olive oil pastry. I think I'll brush it lightly with olive oil. Ditto for the rolling out. I think I will try because it will be easier to divide the pastry into appropriate sized bits.

I think I'll try the version of the pastry that I found on a website called Hot Sour Salty Sweet because it's from Patricia Wells - which is a name I recognise as one of those people that people admire.

I thought that by now I had made two definite decisions. Two different tarts - one with anchovies one without - with capsicum instead, olive oil pastry.

Then I started looking around at origins and other versions, and suddenly realised that, of course, I mean I knew this really, that it's actually a kind of pizza and that therefore it is often made with bread dough. Well that's ok for vegans - you can even add olive oil to the bread dough for a Provençal touch. In Nice - well anywhere in the south of France really - they sell huge versions in the bakeries and patisseries. Probably not always bread dough, but often. So should I change my mind and go for bread dough?

No I don't think so. Firstly because it's much more of a faff and needs more planning, and secondly because I don't really trust my bread doughs. Besides bread dough would be better in a pizza dish or sort of free form. I think if you squeezed it into a rectangular tart tin then it would be a bit thick and doughy in the corners.

Elizabeth David makes her version with a bread dough, which made me stop in my tracks for a moment. After all she's the Queen who knows everything and how everything should be. But look - her version has tomatoes in it, in fact it looks as if there are more tomatoes than onions - and that is definitely not authentic. Quite tempting I admit, and in fact I shall probably cook some tomatoes in with my onions, but really it does look more like ordinary old pizza and that's not what I'm after here.

Or should I change tack and actually go for tomatoes as the main event? There was a recipe in the Coles Magazine this month from Curtis Stone for Tomato and fetta filo tart. Now there's another idea - filo pastry - that has no dairy in it does it?. Olive Magazine - another reliable source had an olive oil pastry tart with tomatoes - Tomato tart with olive oil pastry and Thomasina Miers a newly favourite cook of mine has Tomato onion and olive pissaladière. So why not just tomatoes?

Possibly a bit boring, and they are expensive. Moreover I made a puff pastry tart with onions recently and it was just so tasty. I really fancy onions. Puff pastry - the 'ordinary' puff pastry doesn't have butter in it does it? Well I'm not sure, and besides, for some reason my attempts at puff pastry often do not puff enough for me. But Jamie Oliver had a Sticky onion tart which used puff pastry. I think it was probably a kind of tarte tatin as well, and the onions were much more intact than the sliced fried onions that you see elsewhere. And whilst it was on interesting onion variation I also came across a delectable sounding recipe for a topping from Greg Malouf for Sweet peppers and shallots in lemon oil - alas no picture but classy sounding.

That filo pastry idea - obviously not that particular tart because the feta and yoghurt are not possible - could be a possibility I guess, but it is straying quite a long way from my original notion of a fairly classic pissaladière - just without the anchovies.

Time to go to the shops then - for some more anchovies and olives - I don't have enough, and some peppers to put on top. Maybe tomatoes if the peppers are too expensive.

And indeed they were. $13.90 per kilo for red peppers in Woolworths! An eye-watering amount. I really must go to the Queen Victoria Market soon. At that price I thought it might be an option to buy a jar of ready-charred and skinned peppers - but no, not really. Well if I bought a kilogram jar it was indeed considerably cheaper - $8.90 - but that's still a lot of money for a capsicum. So no Greg Malouf Sweet peppers and shallots in lemon oil. Besides I had also realised that I should have made the lemon oil yesterday - so another time perhaps when peppers are cheaper.

So back to the fresh section to buy some more tomatoes - truss tomatoes at $3.90 - a bit expensive but not too bad - and some mixed cherry tomatoes at $15.00 or so. Yes I know where is the logic in that? They are even more expensive than the capsicum, but isn't it silly, that somehow seems more reasonable than peppers at $13.90. So never mind the logic - the vegan tart will have sliced mixed tomatoes on top. With olives

Back at home and after a quick lunch of a banana, I tackled the onions. Six onions thinly sliced, olive oil, slowly fried in a wide pan - I think it was probably for about an hour in the end. I added two sliced cloves of garlic, three peeled and chopped tomatoes, a big spoonful of passata, and some herbes de provence. And I think I put in too much olive oil. Never mind. They are cooling right now, waiting for me to top my tarts. I'm hoping I will have the right amount. According to Larousse Gastronomique"

"good pissaladière should have a layer of onions half as thick as the base if bread dough is used; if made with shortcrust pastry the layer of onions should be as thick as the flan pastry".

I have rinsed the jarred, pitted hojiblanca olives - you need good black olives for this, not those pale kalamazoo ones, and I'm lazy so I bought the pitted ones. I don't think I'll rinse the anchovies though. When I've finished this I shall be off to make the pastry and the tarts.

Oh and when I told David that he would have to have salad tonight, he looked forlorn, having forgotten that I was going out tonight. But just in time I thought that I could make him a separate little tart of his own. No anchovies for him either.

The anchovies are sort of how Pissaladière got its name. The latin for fish is pisces, pissalat was a provençal condiment made from anchovies and this became the root for the name of the tart. Luke Nguyen paid homage to this fact in his French onion tart (Pissaladière) by spreading the base of the tart with anchovy paste rather than decorating the top with anchovies.

So there you go. A few more pictures - some with recipes attached, some not: Pissaladière - Claudia Roden; Pissaladière - Andrew McConnell - possibly the nicest looking one of all; Gourmet Traveller; The others have no recipes: Real Nice (the town) Pissaladière and 'My Pissaladière from Robert Carrier's Feasts of Provence - he adds Parmesan to his which takes it even closer to pizza; France a Culinary Journey and Provence the Beautiful Cookbook.

Time to go and make my two versions. I'll post a picture tomorrow.

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