A slab of golden bread dough, full of flavour, topped with an outrageously thick layer of meltingly soft onions, criss-crossed with anchovy fillets and olives. Now I’ve called it “classic” but let’s not get started on what that actually is. Some French cooks like the onions gently caramelised, some want them utterly blonde; some want the flavour kept pure and simple while others will use a fragrant spiced condiment called ‘Pissalat’ (see below) to add hints of cinnamon and clove. You choose, I’ve given you the basic so follow your tastebuds here.
I’ve used a great T80 CRC flour here from France’s Foricher’s Mill – CRC certification isn’t quite organic but it aims to be a more responsible way to grow and mill, read about it here – and it gives a tremendous flavour and tenderness to the crust, with an easy-to-make and pretty quick bread dough.
For the onion filling
Make this ahead of time, or while the dough is rising in the bowl. Peel and slice the onions, and place in a large saucepan. It will seem like a vast quantity but trust me, it will reduce down to a smaller amount during cooking. Add the salt and water, place a tight-fitting lid on the pan and bring to the boil.
Cook for 15 minutes with the lid on, near to a full-boil all the time. This heat and steam, together with the salt, will break down and soften the onions. You can stir it once or twice if you like. Then remove the lid, and cook for 5 minutes until the water has evaporated.
Then add the sugar, olive oil and herbs, stir well and cook for up to 10 minutes to caramelise it. The onions should catch very slightly on the base of the pan, and when you stir these “burnt” onions through it starts to take on a caramel light-brown colour. You can add some Pissalat flavouring (see below) to the onion mix at the end of cooking, if you like. Then remove from the heat, spoon onto a plate and leave to cool.
For the dough
Put the water in a mixing bowl, whisk in the yeast then when that’s dissolved add the olive oil and flour. Stir everything together to a soft dough, then cover and leave for 15 minutes. Add the salt, plus 20g extra water, and fold this in well. Cover and leave the dough to rise for an hour, then wet your hands (or spray the dough with water) and give it four stretch and folds. Then cover and leave a further 30 minutes then it’s ready to use.
Line the base of the tin with non-stick paper as this makes it easy to remove after baking. Oil the paper and the insides of the tin, place the dough in it and press it out gently with your fingers towards the edges of the tin: it will probably stop stretching about 2-3cm from the edge but don’t worry, just leave it. Leave the tin for 30 minutes until assemble the olives and anchovies for the top.
Press the dough out again so it goes to the edge of the tin, and spread the top with the cooked onions (leaving a 1cm border around). Heat the oven to 220C fan and bake for 25 minutes until pale golden on the crust. Remove from the oven, criss cross the top with anchovy fillets and dot with pitted olive halves, then bake for a further 5-10 minutes until sizzling on top. Serve hot or warm.
An old-fashioned fermented fish condiment found Nice - Côte d'Azur that may sound odd, but is somewhat distantly related to the more familiar Worcestershire Sauce and Thai Fish Sauce. Salted sardines and anchovies are mixed with herbs and spices and left to ferment, creating an aromatic sauce that is like nothing else. However, if you were to add a pinch each of ground cinnamon and clove, a bay leaf and a sprig of thyme, a little mashed sardine and anchovy, to your onion mixture at the end of cooking it would gently nod in the direction of this great rare fish sauce.