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Jun 23, 2009
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Wine With . . . Pissaladière (onion and anchovy tart)

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas

One of the things we most associate with summer in the south of France is Pissaladière, that wonderfully fragrant, pungently flavored rustic tart topped with onions, anchovies and black olives.  It is, according to Waverly Root in The Food of France, his venerable ode to French culture and food, “Italy’s gift to Nice.”  The name, says Root, is related to the Provençale word pissala, which means anchovies ground into a paste.    

We made our pissaladière the traditional way, with nothing more to the filling than slow-cooked onions, garlic, anchovies and black olives, but there is nothing to prevent you from adding thin slices of red and/or green bell pepper, strips of eggplant, zucchini, diced tomato, and the like to the onions as they cook.  We did, however, debate what kind of crust to use.  Through the years the Provençale custom has been to top a slab of flattened-out bread dough with the onion mix, but just as modern pizza is often made with a very thin crust, we’ve frequently encountered pissaladière formed on thin strips of pastry dough, and also on puff paste.  We plan to try this latter variation soon, but on this occasion we made the first two variations on the theme side by side.  We used a ready-made commercial pie crust that we cut into 4 rectangular pieces, and we also made a very simple, basic yeast based bread dough that we rolled into a single large square (it could as easily have been rolled out to fit a circular stone or 12-inch round pizza pan).  The esthetic differences between the two crusts were minimal—it’s really just a matter of time and personal preference. 

The two pissaladières provided more than enough food for a satisfying dinner for the two of us when we tested them for Wine With…Later in the week we invited a couple of friends to join us and reheated the leftovers as a first course, accompanied by a simple green salad.  These two dining experiences made it clear that Pissaladière is going to be one of our summer staples this year.  While it may not exactly replicate the experience of dining by the sea in Nice, the delicious amalgam of sweet onions, briny olives, salty ocean-flavored anchovies and bread-like crust--washed down with just the right wine--brings the sensory pleasures of Provence pretty close to home.


For the dough:

Use a standard home-made or ready made pie crust, cut into 4 equal rectangles.  Alternatively, make the following bread dough.

2/3 cup warm water

One teaspoon sugar

One envelope yeast

5 tablespoons olive oil (mixed use)

2 cups all-purpose or pizza flour

One teaspoon salt

In the bowl of a food processor combine water and sugar.   Sprinkle in the yeast and let mixture sit 5-10 minutes or until lightly foamy.   Add 2 tablespoons of the oil, the flour and the salt.  Process 30 seconds, or until the dough forms into a ball.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 3 minutes, or until it is smooth and elastic.  Pour the remaining oil into a large bowl and add the ball of dough, then turn it over to coat the other side with oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, drape a dishtowel lightly over it, and place in a relatively warm spot for about an hour, or until dough has more or less doubled.

Pre-heat oven to 425oF.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it about 2 minutes, or until it is smooth.  Roll out into a 12-inch circle, or a comparable-sized square, then cut into 4 rectangles.  Transfer to a baking sheet.

Pierce the dough all over with the tines of a fork.  Bake for 5-8 minutes, or until it is just beginning to be slightly colored.

For the Filling:

3 large onions thinly sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

One teaspoon thyme

Salt and pepper to taste

6-12 anchovy filets

12-15 pitted black olives, preferably oil-cured

Cook the onions slowly in the olive oil until very soft, about 15 minutes (do not let burn).  Add the garlic and continue cooking another 5 minutes.  Season to taste.  This filling may be made a day ahead of time. 

To assemble and bake the tart:

Pre-heat oven to 450oF.  Spread the onion mixture evenly over the partially baked crust.  Arrange the anchovies over the top, using more of fewer of them according to taste (we like an assertive anchovy flavor ourselves).  Scatter olives over the top. Bake for about 20-30 minutes, or until crust is nicely browned and crisp.  Serve warm or at room temperature.



Approx. Price


Andeluna, Tupungato Mendoza (Argentina) Malbec 2007 (Imported by San Francisco Wine Exchange)





The ingredients with forceful flavors – anchovies, black olives, onions – that make pissalladiere so tasty also turn out to make it a tricky dish to pair successfully with wine.  In Provence, people often drink dry rosé with it, so we made sure to try a couple pink wines.  One worked fine, but the other, a lighter rendition, seemed overwhelmed by the dish.  A similar fate befell many of the white wines we tried, particularly those that were light to medium-bodied. The two whites we are recommending, while offering very different flavor profiles, share similar weight, being full-fleshed and rich on the palate.  That full body seems necessary, regardless of the grape variety.  At the same time, however, wines that are even bigger and more robust – reds like a Shiraz or a Cabernet – seemed overpowering.  So whether it’s red, white, or rosé, you’ll want to select a wine that feels rich but not heavy.  We also found that we especially appreciated fresh fruit flavors (as opposed to more earthy secondary ones) in all the wines we liked with pissaladière.  The opposite tends to be true when we drink wine with pizza, perhaps because this dish does not include tomatoes, so benefits more from the fruit in the wine.


This youthful Malbec surprised us in being such a good match with the pissaladière.  We thought it might be too forceful, but it had such a lush texture and offered so much juicy plum and berry fruit that it worked splendidly.      




Château d’Aqueria, Tavel (France) Rosé 2008 (Imported by Kobrand)





The bright berry fruit in this rosé made the pairing with pissaladière work well, as the wine had just enough depth of flavor and weight on the palate to hold its own with even the anchovies.




Château des Capitans, Juliénas Beaujolais (France) 2007 (Imported by W.J. Deutsch & Sons)






Much as with the Tavel, the presence of fresh berry (and in this case cherry) fruit flavors made for a successful match.  In addition, this wine had just about the perfect weight to complement the pissaladière.




Chalone Vineyard, Monterey County (California) Chardonnay 2007





Though we thought this wine a tad too oaky when sipped on its own, the wood faded demurely into the background when faced with anchovies, olives and onions, allowing rich tropical fruit flavors to come to the fore.  They provided a delicious contrast to the more salty, earthy flavors in the dish.  





Perrin & Fils, Côtes du Rhône (France) Réserve Blanc 2008

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)







This wine’s fruit certainly seemed more restrained than the Chardonnay’s, but the apple and pear echoes proved very enjoyable, and the wine’s round, almost waxy texture prevented it from being overpowered by what, after all, is a fairly assertive dish.