Extra anchovies please

“Hold the dressing, double the anchovies” is my standard phrase when ordering a Caesar salad. When it comes to the salty little suckers, I can’t get enough of them. If it’s a choice between anchovies and chocolate, the fish will get it nine times out of 10. While I’d like to say that it’s only the delectable Ortiz brand that pass my lips, alas, the amount I go through doesn’t make it fiscally possible (I suppose it would if we stopped buying other food – hmmm, there’s a thought). So, I’ll pretty much eat any anchovies – although do bypass the super cheap brands that seem to bottle the carcasses and forget the flesh.

So, it was with real delight that I devoured a piece of pissaladiere at Le Marche Francais last week. We are spoilt for choice when it comes to French eateries in Wellington and, while this wasn’t our planned lunch venue, I’m glad we ended up there. What the locale lacks in ambience is made up for with mouth-watering food at reasonable prices.

I’ve been meaning to make pissaladiere again for an age and, fresh from Friday’s taste sensation, last night was the night. I’ve experimented with various bases – Donna Hay makes one with puff pastry and a French cookbook I have recommends a thin bread dough. However, after a weekend of overindulgence (when isn’t one?!), I thought I’d try something a little less buttery and a little more wholesome. A quick reference to a dinky little book I found at the Hard to Find Bookstore in Onehunga – Delia Smith‘s 1978 Cookery Course Part One – and an easy wholemeal base was created. Before I continue, the book is a super find. OK, so it lacks the glitz and colour of today’s cook books. It is also, thankfully, sans the puffery of many of these publications. What you get is a practical and incredibly useful reference full of recipes and great explanations. I can’t wait to get my hands on parts two and three.

Delia’s wholemeal base (slight variation of)

  • 50g wholemeal flour
  • 50g plain flour (Delia uses self raising instead of baking powder)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 50 g butter, cubed (Delia uses half butter half lard)
  • 3-4 Tbsp ice cold water

Sift the dry ingredients into a food processor (use the husks left in the sieve) and throw in the butter. Pulse until breadcrumb like. Add the water, one tablespoon at a time until the mixture begins to form a ball. Take out of processor and bring together with your hands. Cover with clingfilm and pop into the fridge for at least half an hour. (You can, of course, make pastry by hand if you prefer.) As Delia, or any chef will tell you,  the secrets to good pastry lie in light hands, not overworking it, and cold ingredients. It’s not nearly as scary as you think. (Why the raising agent? To add some lightness due to the wholemeal flour.)

In hindsight, I would have made one and a half times the base quantity as the topping could have gone further (and even further still had I not ‘tested’ a good few spoonfuls prior to putting the dish together).

Pissaladiere (my take on it)

  • 1-2 Tbsp butter
  • Splash olive oil
  • 5-6 medium/large red onions (about 900ish gm)
  • A few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 16 anchovies
  • Black olives, pitted (although I use what I have so often mine have stones in)
  • Freshly ground black pepper

I know it’s not traditional to use red onions, but I like them. They are easier on the tummy and look pretty. Chop your onions finely. I use a mandolin – so much easier, just watch your fingers. Heat the butter and oil in a large heavy bottom fry pan, until sizzling. Add the onions and half of the thyme (throw in the whole sprig). I usually put in a good sprinkle of table salt – it helps to bring out the moisture of the onions and stops them burning.

Cover with a lid and cook over low/medium heat (I use a heat pad) for about 45 minutes. I stirred two or three times throughout. Take the lid off and cook for another couple of minutes, getting rid of excess moisture.

Take onion off heat, pull out what is left of the thyme sprig (the leaves will have come off) and put mixture on to a plate to cool. Season with pepper, but don’t add more salt – there’s plenty with the olives and anchovies.

Turn oven to 200C. Chop the anchovies in half lengthwise and pull the leaves off the rest of the thyme. Drain olives (rinse first if they are super salty).

Roll out the dough quite thinly. You can use a flan pan or similar (metal is best), but I prefer the rustic look so just roll a rectangle. Mine was about 18 x 25cm, but making more pastry will give you a bigger base. I usually run a fork over the pastry to ‘dock’ it (make small holes). Pop the pastry onto baking paper on an oven tray. I then put it back in the fridge for a while.

If you like, you can brush some olive oil on top of the pastry – but, not essential. Spoon the caramelised onion mixture on to the pastry – leaving a small margin around the sides. Make a lattice pattern over the onion with the anchovies and lay the olives in the ‘diamonds’. Sprinkle thyme over the top.

Bake for about 20 minutes. Serve hot or warm – I like to let it sit for a few minutes before cutting it. Fab for a picnic lunch or light summer dinner.

Verdict on the wholemeal – light, crispy and worked well with the filling. Will make it again. Now, your turn….

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