Have you met pizza’s Roman grandfather?

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September 29, 2020

Prep: 1h 40min

Cook: 1h 20min

Serves: 6-8

The gist.

If you’ve never actually tried anchovies, here’s your chance. Some claim this is the original pizza. With a salty punch from the anchovies and olives, and a balancing sweetness from the caramelized onions, Provençal locals say pissaladière is an excellent appetizer to pair with a glass of Pastis.

There’s an episode of Spongebob Squarepants where Spongebob and Patrick are talking to a pirate ghost who is making an attempt to scare them. Unphased, Patrick demands the ghost tell him the whereabouts of his pizza order. The ghost waves his hands, says, “Pizza? I’ll give you a pizza!” and magically produces a pizza box. Spongebob and Patrick open the box, look inside, and scream. Why? They find a pizza topped with anchovies.

Other than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I feel like the cartoon characters of the 90s taught me that anchovies are the scum of the earth when it comes to pizza toppings. I’ve since learned that anchovies aren’t actually as frightening as I was made to believe. Today I’m going to introduce you to the original anchovy pizza and show you how it’s made.

The pissaladière was created by the Romans in the region that is now France and Italy. Living on the Mediterranean, one of the cheapest and most commonplace ingredients at the time was anchovy. At some point the little fish ended up on a baked, tart-like flatbread and became a popular dish. I’ve heard people say that pissaladière is the original pizza, but who knows? If you actually know, fill me in. So what is it actually? A shortcrust topped with caramelized onions, anchovies, and strong black olives.

While simple in ingredients, pissaladière is not shy when it comes to bold flavors. Just a heads up, this is not for the salt-sensitive. Anchovies are normally cured with salt and packed in a concentrated, salty brine. Additionally, the black Niçoise olives are also cured in salt, adding an extra oomph to the salt punch. With that being said, the base layer on top of the crust is made of caramelized onions, so expect a powerful contrast between the salty and the sweet.

A few tips about making this pissaladière. I encourage you to make the crust. If you decide you need a shortcut, you can always pick up some store-bought tart crust dough and skip the crust-making steps. If you do make the crust yourself (and I hope you do), just remember that the dough will not be sticky. This dough does not yield a tender crumb; the final consistency will be firmer and almost cracker-like.

When making the caramelized onions, know that the onions slices will lose their moisture and will greatly reduce in size. It will feel like you have way too many onions when you first slice them and add them to the pot, but just remember that your stockpot becomes a shrink ray when caramelizing onions.

Last thing. Presentation is important. Presentation is always important, but especially when making a pissaladière. You can see in the picture above that I went with an olive/anchovies-in-an-X alternating pattern. You could go with an argyle pattern, a radial layout, or even an abstract contemporary design. It’s up to you, just make sure those littles fishes look their best.




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  • Prep time: 1h 40min
  • Cook time: 1h 20min
  • Serving size: 6-8
If you’ve never actually tried anchovies, here’s your chance. Some claim this is the original pizza. With a salty punch from the anchovies and olives, and a balancing sweetness from the caramelized onions, Provençal locals say pissaladière is an excellent appetizer to pair with a glass of Pastis.


  • *DOUGH
  • 14 g (4.5 tsp) active dry yeast
  • 250 mL (1 cup) lukewarm water, 40°-45° C (105° - 115° F)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 480 g (4 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1.75 tsp salt
  • 45 mL (3 Tbsp) olive oil
  • 60 mL (1/4 cup) olive oil
  • 1 kg yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried herbes de provence
  • 1 large garlic glove, minced or pressed
  • 60 g (2 oz) anchovies
  • black pepper
  • 14 black Nicoise or Kalamata olives


  1. *DOUGH

  2. Combine the yeast, sugar, and half of the lukewarm water in a small bowl. Stir until homogeneous and let sit for 5 minutes. In a large bowl combine the flour and 1 tsp salt.

  3. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients and add 45 mL (3 Tbsp) olive oil and the remaining lukewarm water. Use a wooden spoon to stir together until a ball of dough is formed. Transfer to a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes until the dough is smooth. It will not be very sticky.

  4. Transfer dough to a large oiled bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let rise for 1.5 hours.


  6. Heat a stockpot over medium-high heat. Once hot, add 60 mL (1/4 cup) olive oil. Add the sliced onions and 1/4 tsp salt. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

  7. Decrease the heat to low and stir in the thyme and herbes de provence. Cover the pot and cook for 40 minutes, stirring the onions every 5 minutes. Near the end of the 40 minutes, preheat the oven to 220° C (430° F).

  8. Remove the lid and cook the onions for an additional 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. While cooking, mince about 2 anchovies. Add the minced anchovies, the garlic, 1/4 tsp salt, and a few grinds of black pepper during the last 5 minutes of cooking. Remove from heat.


  10. Oil a 23x33 cm (9x13 in) pan. Set the dough in the pan and use your fingers to press the dough out to the edges of the pan. Spread the caramelized onions on top of the dough in an even layer.

  11. How you place the anchovies and olives is up to you. The version pictured in this recipe an alternating pattern of olives and anchovies, with the anchovies placed in an "X" formation. Once topped, bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the crust edge is golden.

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