I can’t think of another two ingredients that divide opinion in such stark militant fashion than the humble anchovy and olive.
I recently conducted a quick poll on twitter for both items and the answers I got back confirmed that people either ‘love love love’ or ‘despise’ these two controversial ingredients. However I was shocked and concerned when one person told me that anchovies had made her face swell up like ‘a baboons ass’ the night before her wedding! So I can understand this persons hatred for the tiny mediterranean fish, well founded I guess! I hope the swelling had gone down for the wedding pictures?!
For those that hate anchovies and olives, it seems to manifest itself in a weird phobia, causing symptoms of cold sweats and nausea. A friend of mine used to work part-time in a pizza parlour and he couldn’t even touch anchovies, so passionate was his hate and disgust for them!
I can safely say I am firmly in the yes camp for both and I find the perfect recipe to indulge in is by baking the wonderous and delicious pizza style bread from the South of France, Pissaladiere. What could possibly be wrong with a soft doughy base topped with sweet sticky onions, finished off with salty anchovies and fruity black olives?
Something magical happens to onions when you fry them gently in a pan with some butter, slowly for about 20 minutes. They go all jammy and caramelised, releasing all their natural sugars, that aggressive onion tang giving way to sweet mellowness. Combined with the salty anchovies and the briny olives, this is an awesome combination of bold flavours, that will fill your home with glorious smells as it bakes. Try to get the big fat juicy Kalamata olives with the stone still in, the jarred ones tend to be a bit rubbery and lacking in flavour.
Your hands will smell of onions for days, as you have to slice a lot for the topping, but it’s worth it. Served in thick slices with a peppery green salad on the side, this is ideal lunch material, it would also be great for a picnic.
This is rustic, slow snack food, and in my opinion one of the best recipes to come out of France ever.
For the bread:
450g strong bread flour
450g plain flour
3 x 7g sachets of dried yeast
1 pint of tepid water
For the topping:
8 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 clove of garlic, thinly sliced
A couple of sprigs of thyme
A small tub of Kalamata olives
Two tins of anchovies
To make the bread mix the two types of flour together with a pinch of salt. Dissolve a tablespoon of honey in the tepid water along with the dried yeast. Once the yeast has fully dissolved, make a well in the centre of the flour and add the wet mixture. I like to do this in a very large bowl, as it makes less of a mess.
Mix the flour and wet mix round gently with your hand until the dough starts to come together. If it’s too dry add a bit more water. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and now you get to knead. Roll, stretch and punch the dough for a good 10 minutes, then make it into a round shape, score a large cross into the dough, which helps it to rise, place back into your bowl and cover with cling film. Leave to rise for about 45 minutes, by which time your dough should have doubled in size.
Whilst the dough is rising, you can make your topping. In a large deep pan, melt some butter with a dash of olive oil and add the sliced onions, garlic and thyme. Turn the heat to a medium temperature and cook the onions slowly, stirring gently throughout, for about 20 minutes until the onions have cooked down to a jammy, caramelised consistency. Season with some salt and pepper, and allow to cool.
Once your dough has doubled in size, get it back onto a floured work surface and knead it for a second time. At this stage I knead the dough for about five minutes, you’ll know the dough is ready when you press your finger into the dough and it springs back. Form the dough into a round and cut in half. With the other half of dough you could make some pizzas or even just a simple white loaf in a loaf tin.
Roll the piece of dough out to about the same size as a rectangular roasting tray. Flour the roasting tray and place the dough into the tray. Use your fingers to push the dough out to the edges of the tray, then push the dough down all over with your fingers.
Spread the cooked onions evenly over the top of the dough base, then lay the anchovies over the onions in a diamond pattern and finally, place an olive in the middle of each diamond of anchovies.
Bake in the oven at 180 degrees C for about 25 minutes. Eat whilst still warm from the oven and pretend you’re in the south of France!