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Provençal dreaming

I haven’t left London since October and my feet are getting quite itchy. I’ve made a pact with myself that I can’t go away until I’ve done certain things. No, I’m not telling you what those things are. Rest-of-my-life type things. It’s almost April and I still haven’t done them. And we’ve had a late, cold Spring. To fool myself into thinking I was away I started thinking about pissaladière. I sort of like Provence. I had to look hard to find anywhere decent to eat in Cannes, but was surprised to really enjoy it anyways. I hated St-Tropez. I loved Aix. I feel so negatively about Nice I’ve renamed it Horrid. A score draw for Provence.

Black garlic. Photo by Simon Wilder

Black garlic. Photo by Simon Wilder

But pissaladière is what was in my mind. It’s easy enough to make. I did a google search and found all sorts of variations. Isn’t it interesting how many different ways there are to make something and it still be ‘authentic’? I didn’t want to add tomatoes or anchovy paste. Most recipes used a bread base, but I prefer using pastry. Many used herbs de Provence, but I liked the simplicity of just thyme. Some used garlic, some didn’t. I had an idea to use black garlic. If you haven’t seen it yet, black garlic is fermented garlic. I’ve had harsher versions, but the one I’m using at the moment, from South West Garlic, is mellow and truffle-y. I love it when I’m braising chicken with vegetables. It’s brilliant with mushrooms. I’d recommend you try it although at £4.50-£5 for a small pot it isn’t cheap. My local greengrocer, Crescent Fruiterers in North London has started selling it, but you can get it online pretty easily. Click on the link for info, recipes and a nice, noodly song – Garlic! Stinky and delicious…

I had a pleasant afternoon in the kitchen. The most onerous bit is, as ever, preparing the onions. I didn’t want to use a packet of pre-sliced ones because the acrid fumes always make my eyes sting. I cried slicing them, anyway. It only takes a minute and the tears count as therapy, don’t they. If you want some bonus fun you can slice them in the food processor. Bonus washing up, too. I bought the flakey pastry – all butter, thank you. I like eating the tart best at room temperature. Even better with some ice-cold rosé.

Anyhoo, even though I don’t intend posting many recipes on Siberia, here’s mine for pissaladière.

• Peel and slice three brown onions. Or however many you want, it’s your tart. So much of cooking is making things the way you like them. Have some confidence in the kitchen and recipes can be used as guides rather than rules.
• Melt some butter in a frying pan over the lowest heat. It might be fun to use the oil from the tin of anchovies you’re going to open in a bit. Throw in the onions and take a long time until they’re golden, sweet and meltingly soft. I took an hour, but I’m insane. You don’t want the onions to catch. Go easy on the salt, not something you’ll hear me say often, you’ll be using lots of anchovies. Grind some pepper over the onions. You may want to add some thyme at this point. Stir. Let cool.
• I made a compound butter. I mashed some finely chopped black garlic with some room temperature-soft butter.
• Unroll the flaky pastry onto a floured baking sheet. Cut to the size you want. I didn’t want the tart to be all about pillowy, cloud-like pastry, I wanted it to be about the sweet, salty topping, so I pricked it all over with a fork. Brush the edges with beaten egg. Spread some garlic butter over the pastry. Cover with the onions. Pat flattish. Arrange the anchovies in a way that pleases you. I was going for some sort of star arrangement. I’ll never work as a home economist. It’s traditional to lay them in a lattice pattern. Then the black olives.
• Put into a 180° oven for 25-30 minutes, maybe longer. It depends on your oven, on how you like the tart to be cooked, on you and the night and the music. You might want to strew the top with fresh thyme afterwards. You may daintily add some borage flowers, or nasturtium flowers. That would be pretty. The point is, it’s your tart, make it the way you want it. There’s so little you can say that about in life, make the most of it when you can.

Pour a glass of rosé, add some ice-cubes à les provençals, eat your tart, hear the sea, smell the thyme-scented air. All together, now… Garlic! So pungent and so kicking…

South West Garlic Farm
Crescent Fruiterers


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