The sun is shining in Aix-en-Provence, whose surrounding region is home to that fabulously flavorful mixture called tapenade. You know it, of course you do. It’s what you dip fennel into, spread on freshly toasted bread, slip under the skin of a chicken before you roast it, or eat right off a spoon. Olives, garlic, anchovies and olive oil, its ingredients read like a hymn to the rocky slopes and broad, sunny skies of Provence.
You can bring that Provençal sun right to your plate with tapenade. It’s easy to make, with preserved ingredients you most likely have on hand. Why is it native to Provence? Because Provence is home to olives, garlic, and capers, its ports to the anchovy fishery. Preserved or dried, these ingredients are the cornerstone of the Provençal pantry.
Friends will assemble in the kitchen around a platter of vegetables and freshly toasted bread, and a bowl filled with tapenade. We’ll drink a Domaine de Barroubio dry Muscat, and no one will even notice those little drops of rain tapping on the windows!
I make tapenade in the mortar and pestle, because I like the slightly chunky texture that results. You may make it in a food processor, but don’t over-process. Tapenade needs personality.
First step is to pit the niçoise or other great olives you’ve got. Line up three or four then smash them with a knife, and the pits will practically jump out.
De-germ the garlic.
Soak the salty capers.
If you’re using salted anchovies, soak them in white wine for 15 minutes, to remove some of the salt.
Then, put everything in the mortar and pestle, roll up your sleeves, and get to work. Don’t hold back – you really need to hit and smash the ingredients.
Once you’ve got the paste you want, stir in olive oil and voila! You’ve got a wonderful tapenade. You can then add herbs – I like rosemary at this time of year – minced fine and not too much, so they give a hint and not a blast. You can add coarsely chopped nuts, fine flaked fresh tuna,
Garlicky Olive Paste
8 anchovy fillets, preferably packed in oil
1/4 cup (60ml) dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc**
2 cups (300g) best quality black olives, preferably from Nyons
(or from Turkey or Greece), pitted
1 tablespoon capers, preferably packed in salt, rinsed
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
2 cloves garlic, green germ removed
4 to 6 tablespoons (60-90ml) olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Thyme flower blossoms
- ** If using anchovy fillets in oil from Collioure, or other excellent quality anchovies, there is no need to soak the fillets in the white wine, which is done simply to remove some of their salt. If using anchovy fillets packed in salt, the soaking is necessary. Place the anchovies in a shallow bowl and cover them with the wine. Let them sit for 15 minutes, then drain and pat dry.
- Place all the ingredients except the oil in a mortar and pestle, or in the bowl of a food processor, and grind or process until the olives are ground to a thick puree. Slowly add the oil until it loosens the puree just slightly, and is fully incorporated. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper. Transfer to a serving dish, garnish with the flower blossoms, and serve with freshly toasted bread or high-quality crackers.
About 12 servings