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Chris Ward

Tapenade

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This is a very old, very Mediterranean dish - squished up olives, garlic, anchovies and capers. Cato the Elder wrote about it; the Greeks probably had it, too, since the Romans nicked many of their recipes from them.

Now, it's a Provençal dish - tapenade comes from the Occitan word Tapenas, which means capers. So don't let anyone tell you the capers are optional.

Originally the olives would be squished up in a pestle and mortar; now I do it with my trusty stick blender.

I take one jar of green olives, 500g dry weight (it's about a kilo with the water inside too - I drain out the water, obviously). To this I add a jar of anchovies (100g), the oil inside as well; half a jar of capers (30g of capers), and two - four cloves of garlic, depending on how old the garlic is and how many of my wife's aunts vampires I need to repel.

All this gets squished down into the olive jar with the stick mixer. I drizzle in some olive oil - just enough to get it moving, really, otherwise it becomes a dipping sauce rather than a spreading paste. Say, 25-50ml.

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This is my favourite olive oil, the 'intense' Picholine from what used to be called Moulin des Costières and is now the Oliveraie Jeanjean. It's sipping-quality olive oil, not for glugging or quaffing, at around €25 a litre.


Keep mixing with the stick mixer until it forms a fairly smooth paste. Some people like lumps in their tapenade, some like it to be completely smooth. Up to you.

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Some people add other things to their tapenade: onion, herbs, lemon juice, brandy - as I've said before, peasant foods like this, bouillabaisse, cassoulet, tartiflette and all the rest are made with whatever you have lying around at the time.

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Spread it on croutons. I make mine by slicing up baguette or, here, some of the fennel and sesame seed loaves I made yesterday, adding a little olive oil, some herbes de Provence and a very little salt, then baking them in the oven at 200°C for 20 minutes, turning the baking tray once to ensure they're evenly coloured.

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I usually make tapenade with green olives simply because they're the easiest to find which have already been de-stoned, but in fact I prefer black tapenade personally. Black olives have more depth of flavour for me, but they're less common and more expensive.

Black olives are more expensive as they stay on the trees for longer - black ones are riper than green ones. But leaving them on the trees costs money (time=money, remember) and also runs a greater risk of them being hit with a frost, which ruins the harvest.

Note also that properly cured 'black' olives are usually violet-dark purple in colour, not midnight black as you often see them in shops. Those that are very black have often been coloured with food dye.

We do get olives from the tree in our garden and I try to let them go black normally before curing them. But that's a story for another day. Today, it's tapenade on a crouton with a glass of Muscat before Sunday lunch.

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Why is almost everything from jars? Olives, anchovies, capers.

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First, it's a quick and easy tapenade. Second, I'm not sure where else I'd get them from. They're all preserved ingredients, and you need a container of some sort to keep them in. Paper-wrapped artisanal anchovies don't do so well...

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18 hours ago, Chris Ward said:

First, it's a quick and easy tapenade. Second, I'm not sure where else I'd get them from. They're all preserved ingredients, and you need a container of some sort to keep them in. Paper-wrapped artisanal anchovies don't do so well...

 

Well, of course, they are preserved ingredients, but that doesn't mean they automatically have to be jarred. For the first 25 years of my life, I lived most of the year in the south of France (and still return fairly regularly)  and I don't remember my family buying olives or capers in jars. They were scooped out of a bucket on the floor of the store or in the market and put into a plastic bag. Salted anchovies were wrapped in greaseproof paper. I remember licking the paper as a kid. Must be where I got my salt addiction.

Those 25 years were a long time ago and I realise things may have changed. I just wanted to explain my surprise and the reason I asked.

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My favorite (and only so far) use for tapenade is the muffuletta sandwich, and as I know it, comes from New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. There are French, Cajun, Creole, Italian and my other influences on the cuisine of this major port city, and some excellent and interesting food comes out of it.

 

I have made them cold, but my best recipe is for one wrapped in foil and grilled until the ingredients are warm and the cheese is melted on the sandwich.

 

I served muffulettas at a dinner party at my house one time, and it was a hit. I remember having to hand write the recipes for the sandwich and tapenade for two guests in the aftermath.

 

I don't think I would take the trouble anymore, because I have to fire up charcoal and no longer have a gas grill. I am certain that the foil-wrapped sandwich would not suffer from heating in the oven, though. I used the rosemary "peasant bread" small boules I fetched for takeout from our local outlet of the chain Romano's Macaroni grill for the cookout dinner. They were perfect, back then, but I haven't used them in many years, and their reputation has suffered of late.

 

I would be interested in other uses for tapenade, if others have any ideas.

 

 

 

 

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11 hours ago, liuzhou said:

 

Well, of course, they are preserved ingredients, but that doesn't mean they automatically have to be jarred. For the first 25 years of my life, I lived most of the year in the south of France (and still return fairly regularly)  and I don't remember my family buying olives or capers in jars. They were scooped out of a bucket on the floor of the store or in the market and put into a plastic bag. Salted anchovies were wrapped in greaseproof paper. I remember licking the paper as a kid. Must be where I got my salt addiction.

Those 25 years were a long time ago and I realise things may have changed. I just wanted to explain my surprise and the reason I asked.

I'm afraid I still don't see the problem with keeping things in jars. It's OK presumably for jam - I've never seen that being sold scooped out of a bucket at a market. Selling anchovies 'loose' would be illegal now, for very good hygiene reasons. Scooping things out of buckets on the floor is intrinsically unhygienic, we've learned. 

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20 minutes ago, Chris Ward said:

Selling anchovies 'loose' would be illegal now, for very good hygiene reasons. Scooping things out of buckets on the floor is intrinsically unhygienic, we've learned. 

I doubt it's illegal. It a pretty common sight at farmers' markets (and specialized stores), for anchovies, olives, things of that sort...

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That's not my experience. I grew up in France and still go there regularly.  I was in Paris last year where this was still very common.  

David Lebovitz has plenty of examples on his blog... Olives in bulk, etc.

http://www.davidlebovitz.com/marche-daligre-aligre-outdoor-market-paris/

http://www.davidlebovitz.com/the-barbes-market-paris-french-market/

Here is another picture from another blog with anchovies in bulk.

http://eastsidefoodbites.com/2011/05/26/eatings-from-paris-anchovies-aplenty/


Edited by FrogPrincesse (log)
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3 hours ago, Chris Ward said:

I'm afraid I still don't see the problem with keeping things in jars.

 

I didn't say there was a problem. I merely asked why you were buying them this way when, in my and others' experience, they are sold loose.

 

I too doubt this is illegal, If it is, it must be one of the most ignored laws ever.

 

See here.


Edited by liuzhou (log)

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Oh, the reason I buy them like this is simple - I'm poor. Buying olives on the market costs 5-10 times more per kilo. I do buy expensive olive oil for this sort of purpose though - see the link above. I cook with cheap olive oil though.


Edited by Chris Ward (log)

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Amazing! The power of eGullet!

 

Two days ago they were totally unavailable and illegal. Now they are available and legalised, but sadly too expensive!

 

Now we just have to work on making them cheaper so you don't have to make do with living in France eating industrially processed "Spanish" olives from a German supermarket!


Edited by liuzhou (log)

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I'm afraid I find them delicious, as does every single person who eats my tapenade. I will try harder to find discerning friends and family.

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I also use jarred olives in my tapenade most of the time. The main reason is convenience, because that allows me to make tapenade on the spur of the moment with things I already have on hand. I use Greek kalamata olives from Trader Joe's which are decent, but nothing great.

 

Black olives are more traditional and give you a very dark/almost black tapenade, which is what I am more accustomed to (rather than the dark purple tapenade you get with the kalamatas). The recipe I use actually calls for Nyons olives which are described as "mild, dry-cured, and not too salty". I've seen Nicoise olives used too. I honestly don't know what type of black olive is more traditional in France for tapenade.

 

Green olive tapenade is nice too, but it's a completely different thing (and a more recent invention). Black olive tapenade is a lot more intense, a bit bitter, tannic. Made with good quality olives, it has a great depth of flavor and you only need to use a small amount on bread (too much and it'd be an overload of garlic & anchovies) . To me, it was something special/more or less a luxury item when growing up in France.

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