the power of sprat

We’ve barely had two days of spring, and I’ve been just itching with ideas for new projects. With the move almost behind me, I’ve focused on unpacking and settling in as quickly as possible. And I’m almost there too! Between KS and me, efficiency is our shared strong suit. And with some time on my hands while KS is in sunny Mustique next week enjoying things like the beach and fish tea, I am eager to get started with all things spring.

Like plant some herbs on our patio. And maybe a few flowers. I’ve got zero landscaping skills, but I am going to do a little research and digging on my trusty friend, the internet, and hopefully come up with some easy, cost-effective solutions. And of course, with my gardening project in mind, I’ve also shifted gears in my food cravings and consumption. My winter cravings for root vegetables and hearty stews is all but gone and my cravings are for all things fresh, crisp, spring-like.

Whenever I think of spring, I think of Provence with its fields of flowering lavender, outdoor tables with little bowls of olives and freshly baked bread with thick salted crusts. Provençal food, to me, is a real reminder of the vernal season, though I cannot justify the association.

And so with spring on my mind, and in my step, I decided to make something I’ve always enjoyed rather gluttonously, yet never attempted to make – a pissaladière. Pissaladière comes from Pissalat — a provençal condiment made of puréed anchovies mixed with some herbs and olive oil and spread on the pastry dough. I was inspired by Béa’s beautiful pictures and writing over a month ago and was looking for a perfect occasion to craft one myself.

caramelized & ready to go

I must note a few things here that might help you in your own preparation of this dish. For one, I think that the pastry dough should be made and not bought. I say this only because the store-bough version I had was lovely, but not breathtaking. Like a picture-frame that could make or break a picture, the pastry in this case was good, but not great. And so in my next take on this dish, which turned out really great, I will make my own pastry dough, recipe yet to be determined.

The onions take longer to cook than the recipe suggested. I cooked them rather slowly (as not to burn them) for about 45 minutes. And for my own, odd, taste preferences I omitted the garlic. I know, I know – you’re probably thinking you did what?!?!?!? But I’d thought (and I don’t regret making this choice one bit) that I wanted the onions, caramelized and sweet with some salt to give them edge, to be the stars of this show. And maybe the anchovies playing the supporting role.

twenty minutes away from baked bliss

A propos anchovies, another note. I couldn’t find any in our cupboards. But it’s entirely possible I didn’t know where to look (as I often miss things right in front of my very nose). But my mother did send me back to New York once, with a few Russian store goodies, including a can of sprats. Sprats are apparently little species of herring that are often packed in oil, much like sardines. I quite like them, having grown up with eating them right on thick slices or dark, Russian bread with pieces of onion.

And you know what? The sprats worked gloriously well – giving a slightly salty edge to the sweetness of the onions. And the little Niçoise olives completed the flavors quite nicely.

smelling of spring and sea

And so the three of us, KS, a friend, and myself, enjoyed this little rite of spring, sipping Riesling and enjoying the night. And though KS and I went to bed rather late, by our school-night standards, we were full and content, and delighted in good company and a favorable change in season.

Perhaps, to give Provence its due course, I should think of planting some lavender upstairs – the next best thing to actually being in Provence in the springtime.

1 sheet frozen puff pastry
¼ cup olive oil
4-5 medium onions
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp fresh thyme
½ tsp rosemary
½ tsp Kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
8-10 anchovy (or sprats) fillets packed in oil
¼ cup pitted Niçoise olives, halved
Extra-virgin olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Heat the oil on high to med-high in a non-stick pan and add to it thinly sliced onions. Saute for a couple of minutes and reduce heat, slowly cooking the onions for 35-45 minutes until very soft and golden brown. Add sugar, salt, pepper, thyme and rosemary and cook for another few minutes. Set aside.

3. Take the puff pasty and place it in a greased pie/tart baking dish (I liked mine as a circle, even though the sheet was clearly a square, but instead, I just bent the corners to create cute little folds on four sides of the tart).

4. Lightly prick the crust at the bottom and carefully place the onions on the bottom, spreading them out evenly.

5. Place the sprats where appropriate on top of the onions and sprinkle with the olives.

6. Bake for 20 minutes until the edge turn golden-brown.

7. Remove from oven, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and serve warm.

Inspired by Béa at Tartine Gourmande & Food Network


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