In praise of Tapenade

Whilst surfing Masterchef the other night I finally reached breaking point. It had started to fade away when [my kids were born and time became the most precious commodity?] they introduced the X-factor-style, drag the families in to cheer-or-blub round, when they go through or not.

Looking back the first hints of fatigue were evident during the now defunct passion test “I want this more than life, take my family and soul and do with them what you will, that’s how much I want this”.

However the straw that broke my camels back; some poor chap was 5 minutes late serving his first course to ‘the Critics’ and Jay Rayner was doing his best Monica Galetti impression, glowering at him as though as though evil incarnate. I thought it wouldn’t be long before he grabbed a knife and chased the cook shouting ‘I kill you ! I kill you all !!’ before being restrained by Gregg and sedated with cubes of crispy pork belly of which he is so rightly fond. In fairness to Mr Rayner,he writes well and I trust his judgement when it comes to restaurants as I also worship fatty pork.

Anyway, as a sedative I headed for the kitchen and after rooting through the fridge I decided to make Tapenade; my favourite multi-purpose sauce/flavouring/dip/spread.

My recipe is loosely based on The Surreal Gourmet by Bob Blumer and is basically everything thrown into a food processor and pulsed to the consistency you like.

  • Olives - a big handful or a tub or two from a supermarket. Bob Blumer uses Kalamata stone-in, I add whatever I have in the fridge and I like to mix and match every time as this gives different flavours. Smoked olives are good as are chilli olives, try and include some black olives [natural please, not dyed] as they are more oily and have a deeper flavour.
  • Rosemary – a pack from a supermarket, needles only. I have a rosemary bush which has miraculously survived the winter and my driving so I pulled off a large twig.
  • Parsley - a pack from a supermarket or a big handful with stalks, preferably flat leaf but doesn’t really matter as long as you chop the curly down so it doesn’t stick in your teeth.
  • Garlic - a couple of big cloves crushed with the back of a knife to get the flavours going
  • Olive oil - enough to bring together all the ingredients
  • Half a Lemon - Juice (and zest)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

at this point please note that Tapenade is so easy going that you can throw almost anything in; anchovies, capers {Tapenade derives from the provencal word for capers Tapeno}, sun-dried tomatoes, grated parmesan or grana, grated orange zest, caponata!, artichokes, in fact anything preserved in oil or vinegar (even Tuna)

Whizz it all up, stick your finger in to taste, and when you’re happy then put it in a sealed tub in the fridge. Remember to ‘correct the seasoning’ as they say but note that it gets stronger [and better] over time.

It’s magic on crackers or oatcakes or with crudités, particularly carrots. The kids love it [one enjoys making it, the other cries when the food processor is switched on]. You can let it down with yoghurt or mayo or crème fraiche or any proportions of any thick dairy. I’ve never tried but I expect it would make a decent flavoured butter.

It can be spread in or on fish or meat before or after grilling or frying and it adds depth to those stews and soups which are a bit bland and didn’t quite work out as I wanted [normally because I didn’t fry off pancetta or chorizo or cook with duck or chicken fat].

You can toss it with cubed lamb [½ the weight of tapenade to lamb] stick it in a pot and cook it low and slow for a couple of hours. Add some of those little Chantenay carrots [whole unpeeled, just scrubbed] and some small shallots [peeled if you can be bothered] ½ an hour before serving.

Its great with halved hard boiled eggs; oeufs a la tapenade where the yolks are mashed with tapenade and refilled into the halved whites.

It’s a sauce for pasta e.g just add orrecchiette and cooked broccoli or a stir through for couscous. You can even run it through porridge but that’s a whole other story.

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Mediterranean, Olives, Lifestyle