Yesterday I walked in a restaurant kitchen for a training session and the first thing I noticed was that, among the cooks, there were no girls: a common state of affairs until a few years ago, but things are changing. Women are more and more present in professional kitchens, holding their own, and no longer relegated to pastry only.
When I first started out, my (female) chef, who hired women pretty aggressively, insisted we all acquire a membership to WCR, the Women Chefs and Restaurateur Association, that has been supporting women in the culinary industry for decades. Thanks to the WCR, I attended some pretty inspiring and fun conferences, I made new friends and met some fabulous chefs.
One of them, Anne Willan, is a wonderful English lady who is considered by many the doyenne of French cooking, thanks to the La Varenne cooking school she owned and ran in France for many years and to the beautiful and inspiring cookbooks she has written. One of my favorites is The Country Cooking of France. I have struggled with French food most of my life and, while I realize that some of the fundamentals of cooking originate in France, I am hardly ever inclined to cook or eat French food – I find it too heavy and sauce-centered.
But French peasant cooking is a different matter and many of the recipes from The Country Cooking of France have been the centerpieces of more than one dinner party.
For a recent birthday lunch, I chose to serve a Pissaladiere as an appetizer and I was reminded why I love this French “pizza” so much: the combination of soft onions, tomatoes, olives and anchovies is perfect.
The dough more closely resembles a flatbread rather than a pizza and there is no cheese. So, I guess, not much of a pizza after all. It’s one the best (and easiest to make) examples of French country cooking, one that, if not already in your repertoire, it should be because you will want to make it over and over again. Like for Italian peasant dishes, the better and fresher the ingredients, the better the end result.
For the dough
1 2/3 C Flour
1/2 ts Salt
6 T Lukewarm water (90 ml)
1 ts Dry Yeast
1 T Olive oil
Salt and pepper
For the topping
3 T Olive oil
3 or 4 Onions, thinly sliced (I used yellow)
1 Garlic clove, smashed (use up to three, chopped, if you like garlic)
1 T Mixed herbs: basil, rosemary and thyme
12 Anchovy fillets, rinsed
2 or 3 Large tomatoes, peeled or a bunch of cherry tomatoes
1/2 C Black olives, pitted
- Make the dough. Put the water in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook and sprinkle the yeast on top. Wait a few minutes until it bubbles. Whisk. Add the olive oil and egg, salt and flour and mix on low-speed for a few minutes, until the dough comes together and feels elastic.
- Take the dough out the mixer, knead if for a couple of minutes and transfer to an oiled bowl covered with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes to an hour (alternatively, let the dough rise slowly in the refrigerator overnight – let it come to room temperature before using it). Dough can also be made by hand.
- Heat the oil in frying pan over low heat and add the onions, herbs, salt and pepper. Press a piece of aluminum foil down on the onions, cover the pan, and sweat the onions, stirring occasionally, until very soft. Do not let them brown. Taste, adjust seasoning, and set aside.
Cut the anchovies in half lengthwise. Cut the tomatoes into slices (or the cherry tomatoes in half).
- Brush a baking sheet with oil. Knock the air out the dough and pat it dough on a baking sheet to make a 12” round (30 cm). Spread the onions on the dough, leaving a small border. Arrange the tomatoes over the onions, and sprinkle with pepper. Make a diagonal lattice of anchovy fillets and fill the spaces with the olives. Brush the surface with olive oil.
- Leave the tart to rise for 10/15 minutes and then bake at 375F/190C for about 23/35 minutes until quite crisp . Serve warm or at room temperature.