Louise doesn’t particularly care for olives. It’s not the taste that she finds disagreeable as much as it’s the texture – the mouth feel if you will.
Out of respect for her culinary sensibilities, I have almost eliminated olives from my cooking repertoire. That’s a shame because I absolutely love olives. I love brine-cured olives, oil-cured olives, green, black, tan olives, and olives stuffed will all sorts of ingredients like garlic, jalapenos and blue cheese. I like full-flavored olives and don’t particularly care for the jumbo black olives that come in a can. They are actually green olives that have been dyed black.
The other evening, we planned to share dinner with friends, and I thought of preparing a rustic tapenade for an appetizer. Traditionally, tapenade is a coarse paste made with olives, capers, anchovies and olive oil. Well, I had already lost Louise with the olives and the capers. Rather than make a paste, I used finely chopped tomatoes, olives, capers, red onion, oregano, fresh basil and olive oil. I always rinse the capers and the onions in cold water before using. This removes some of the brininess from the capers and takes away some of the harshness from raw onions.
When Louise went upstairs to get ready, I added a little anchovy. I made some crostini by taking French bread, slicing it thin, drizzling a little olive oil and adding Parmesan on the slices, and placing them in a 300-degree oven for about 15 minutes.
We went to dinner. She ate the tapenade, and she loved it. Who’d of thought? After the tapenade was consumed, I confessed to the addition of anchovy. Anchovies are a magical ingredient. They intensify the flavor of food. When used correctly, you will never identify their taste, but that is the subject of another column.
Tapenade comes to us from Provencal and its name is derived from the word for capers, tapenei. Capers are native to the Mediterranean but were brought to Provence by the Phoenicians and the Greeks about the sixth century B.C. Originally, the capers were packed in amphoras and covered with olive oil as a preservative. In time, the capers were mashed into a paste and this product became the ancestor of today’s tapenade. About the second century A.D., vinegar became more widely used as a preservative and olives were used in addition to the capers to make the condiment.
Today, tapenade can easily be found in the local grocery stores or online. The commercially prepared products are generally good, but the what you can easily make at home is far superior.
Tapenade can be used in many more ways than a spread on crackers or crostini. It makes a terrific topping for baked or sauteed fish. I like to spread a little under the skin of chicken before roasting. Use it in omelets with a little goat cheese. Mix it with bread dough for a wonderful olive loaf. Spread tapenade on sandwiches in place of, or in addition to, mayonnaise. If you are pressed for time, mix tapenade with your favorite pasta and add some good quality tuna, shrimp, calamari or chicken for a quick dinner. Add it to your salads and soups. The possibilities are endless.
As with the possibilities, the list of potential ingredients is seemingly endless. The flavor of figs, capers and olives is exceptional. I have included a recipe for a fig tapenade you may want to try.
Sun-dried tomatoes are also great, as are artichoke hearts and roasted garlic.
Use your imagination and you might be surprised with the wonderful concoctions you can create. If you were to add some pickled cauliflower and pepperoncini, you are on your way to a giardiniera or olive salad to make a muffaletta.
Traditionally, tapenades were made using a mortar and pestle. You might want to use the molcajete you just bought to make guacamole.
A few pulses in a food processor makes quick work of making tapenades. Blenders tend to make an ugly mush.
Stay away from blenders and don’t ask how I know. For the rustic tapenade I made, I used only my chef’s knife. I really like the chunky consistency.
I hope you try your hand at this, and you may convert an olive skeptic like I did.