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I’ve been caramelising onions a lot of late.  It got me thinking that I’d never made a pissaladière, for panda-in-crime. I was curious as to what he’d make of the French take on pizza, albeit one lacking in tomatoes and cheese.  Pissaladière is the perfect picnic food or lunchtime snack, as it doesn’t fall apart when you bite into it and is just as delicious eaten at room temperature.  Originating in the Southern Provence of France, the pissala in the name actually derives from the pissalat (peis salat = salted fish) or anchovy paste used in the dish.  Please don’t let the inclusion of anchovies put you off.  I promise that this tart is not one with fishy undertones.  The anchovies impart a pungent saltiness, which beautifully compliments the sweetness of the caramelised onions and the tanginess of the olives.

I prefer to lay the anchovies out over the tart in a criss-cross olive studded pattern, but my tin of anchovy fillets swimming in extra virgin olive oil were rather disintegrated.  I simply spread the paste over the bottom of the tart base before spooning on the onions, which is a mellower way to enjoy pissaladière if you’re not yet a huge anchovy fan.

The secret to this tart is slow cooking the onions.  I mean really slow cooking them.  Once I’d sliced the enormous pile, it took about an hour for them to collapse into a softened almost pulped mass.  Be patient, it’s worth it.  The good news is that you only need to stir the onions a couple of times, as it is only in the final stages of cooking that they’ve a tendency to want to stick to the bottom of the pan.

It was a torturous wait as the heavenly smell of frying onions permeated every nook and corner of the flat.  So much so that our grumbling bellies  forced us to demolish each and every slice – so much for having the leftovers for lunch tomorrow…

RECIPE: PISSALADIÈRE

Serves 4 people as a light lunch – or two very greedy pandas

Adapted from the recipe at Delia online

INGREDIENTS:

For the filling

8 finely sliced onions

A head of finely chopped garlic

Half a teaspoon of crushed fennel seeds

A bay leaf

A dried chilli

A sprig of thyme

A generous glug of olive oil

A tin of anchovies in olive oil, reserve the oil for drizzling

A dozen kalamata olives, halved and pitted

For the dough

8oz strong white flour

A teaspoon of instant dried yeast

A teaspoon of brown sugar

A teaspoon of salt

A grinding of black pepper

A splash of olive oil

150ml of lukewarm water

INSTRUCTIONS:  Fry the onions, garlic, fennel seeds, bay leaf , thyme and chilli in a generous glug of olive oil.  Cook uncovered on a low heat for about an hour or until the onions disintegrate into a soft mass.  Stir occasionally, paying more attention at the end as the onions start to stick to the pan.  They should be a light golden brown, almost purée-like consistency.    Season generously.  There is no need to add sugar to the caramelising onions as this detracts from their natural subtle sweetness.

Once you’ve started the onions sweating you can make the dough.  Mix all the ingredients together and add enough lukewarm water to form a dough.  The exact amount depends on the flour used and the humidity, which is high in my kitchen!   Knead for ten minutes until it is smooth and elastic and roll out into a large rectangle or whatever shape takes your fancy.  You can easily make individual ones, but remember to reduce the cooking time accordingly.  Lay the base into the tin and push up the edges slightly forming a rim.  Cover with a clean, damp tea towel and leave to rise for about half an hour. 

Smear over the anchovy paste and spoon on the onions, spreading the mix right up to the edges of the tart.  Arrange the olives on top (and the anchovy fillets if you prefer to use them whole), pour over the reserved anchovy oil, scatter over a few more thyme leaves and another grind of black pepper.  Pop the tart into a pre-heated oven at 220°C for twenty minutes until the edges are crisp and golden.  Serve with a simply dressed rocket salad, a large glass of crisp white wine and enjoy.

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