The final glorious days of my post-Ballymaloe travels played out in the south of France. After my first hour in Nice, I had vowed to learn impeccable French, eschew all my belongings and work at a market selling peaches. The whole region is absolute heaven on earth. The Mediterranean climate is perfect for fresh fish, amazing produce, and fabulous wine, all elevated by the pristine French standard of cooking that you just can’t find on my side of the Atlantic.
I split my time between Nice and an incredible place called Le Pavillon de Galon in Cucuron, Provence. The days were spent learning about French artichokes and the best way to buy octopus, exploring Roman ruins, and meandering through exquisite gardens. And eating.
I’ll be writing up quite a few recipes inspired by my time in the south of France, so bear with me. I'm smitten and I'm not ready to let go. Up first, we’ve got pissaladière – a simple tart of caramelized onion with a pizza-like crust. The tart can be made with puff pastry, or the chewy bread dough that I’m using today. Both are great in their own right.
Pissaladière can be a quick breakfast, a gorgeous appetizer or a lovely light meal when you throw in a salad and a glass of icy Provençal rose. You can play around with the toppings – maybe vary the herbs, or omit the anchovies or olives. Don't skimp on time when cooking the onions, and don't skimp on quality with the olives, anchovies and olive oil. Two important lessons from France that I don't plan to forget.
This recipe is a special one. Pissaladière is the very last thing that I cooked in Europe. I was in a kitchen in Greenwich, far, far away from the balmy southern coast of France. But with the melee of salty olives, briny anchovies and sweet, sweet caramelized onions, I could quite viscerally feel Provence in every bite.
Then, a crashing bolt of late-summer lightning jolted me out of my reverie and back to the dreary London afternoon. Pissaladière was a bright spot in a day filled with wrenching goodbyes, a nightmare of packing, and a long flight to JFK.
I'm back on US soil now, immersing myself in old friends, my family and my hometown. I don't know what's next. I don't know where's next. What I do know is that the last few months have been some of the most joyful, creative and wonderful times of my life. Whatever happens, however difficult or mundane, I can bask in the memory of a perfect summer day in Provence, bright pink peach juice dripping down my arm, regretting nothing.
Yield: Serves about 12
Prep Time: 1 hour Cook Time: 30 min Total Time: 1 hour 30 min
7 oz / 200 g strong white flour (I subbed in all-purpose and it was OK)
2 tsp dried yeast
1 tsp salt
5 oz / 150 mL warm water
glug of olive oil
2 lbs / 1 kg onions, peeled and sliced thin
4 Tbs olive oil
2 tomatoes, skinned and chopped
sprig of thyme
handful of black olives
2 tins of anchovy filets
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a bowl, and mix in water and a glug of olive oil. Knead for about 5 minutes, til dough is stretchy and smooth. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover, and let rise for about an hour.
Meanwhile, heat 4 Tbs olive oil in a saucepan over low heat. Saute onions and a pinch of salt for about ten minutes, til onions are softened but not brown. Add tomatoes, and good grind of pepper and the sprig of thyme. Cover and cook for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. When onions are melted and soft, remove lid and let some of the liquid evaporate for the final 10 minutes of cooking. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if necessary, and remove the thyme stems.
At this point, preheat the oven to 425 F / 220 C. Roll out the dough into a square and press into the baking dish, trimming the edges so they're only about 1/2" raised from the bottom of the tart. If you have extra dough, roll into a circle and make an extra mini tart. Cover the tart with the onion mixture. Then drape anchovy filets across in criss cross pattern (cut wide ones in half lengthwise). Dot the tart with olives.
Bake for about 30 minutes, til crust is just golden. Remove from oven and drizzle with a touch of olive oil and a pinch of salt.