A French pizza? Oui, mais non! Pissaladière bears a striking resemblance to the Italian classic, both in looks and name. Bread dough base? Check (most of the time). Savoury topping? Check. But although its name sounds similar, there doesn't appear to be any direct etymological link with pizza. To the contrary, pissaladière is derived from the Niçoise condiment, pissalat, which, in turn, is derived from the Latin 'piscis', meaning fish.
Originally made from the fry of sardines and anchovies, pissalat evolved into a pungent mixture of puréed anchovies flavoured with cloves, thyme, bay leaf and pepper and mixed with olive oil. As this condiment isn't so easy to get hold of outside the Mediterranean area, anchovy fillets are more commonly used instead, but be sure to use the best you can afford.
Pissaladière can be made either with a shortcrust pastry base or, perhaps more satisfyingly, with a bread dough base (it's also common for pâtisseries to use puff pastry), which is what we've done here. From this point, the other key components are onions and olives. The onions are cooked slowly in olive oil until they're very soft and sweet, and a generous quantity is an absolute must. According to the French cooking bibleLarousse Gastronomique, "good pissaladière should have a layer of onions half as thick as the base if bread dough is used; if made with shortcrust pastry the layer of onions should be as thick as the flan pastry".
Anchovies are then arranged over the sweet onion mixture, traditionally in a lattice pattern, and each diamond is studded with a briny Niçoise olive. Some pissaladières may also use tomato, but for the purist it's the sweet-salty combination of onions, anchovies and olives that truly hits the spot.
The joy of pissaladière is that it's as good cold as it is hot from the oven (and the same can't really be said for pizza, unless you have a hangover). So make two and save some for later. Vive pissaladière!
One by the book, as you’d expect from this classic Parisian-style bistro.
11 Toorak Rd, South Yarra, Vic, (03) 9866 8569.
La Gerbe d’Or
This café has been selling them for 26 years.
255 Glenmore Rd, Paddington, NSW, (02) 9331 1070.
On the menu as an amuse bouche.
697 Brunswick St, New Farm, Qld, (07) 3358 1558.