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Tapénade - caper sauce not olive

"The curious thing about this sauce is that it has a kind of ancient, powerful flavour about it, as if it were something which might perhaps have been eaten by the Romans." Elizabeth David

I have a feeling, indeed I am getting it more and more, that I am repeating myself. Well I can't remember everything I have written about and it's not that well indexed so I can't find things easily. Anyway if I have said all of the following before, apologies.

It sort of is ancient, but then again not really. Back in Ancient Greece they used to preserve capers for travelling in amphorae by putting them in olive oil. Which frequently turned them to mush.

'Tapenade comes from the Provençal word tapeno, which means caper. It contains three ingredients: olives, capers, oil. No garlic, no anchovies." Rémy Pierre - Tapénade maker Languedoc

And others point to similar kind of sauces that the Romans did indeed eat.

Mind you Elizabeth David (and others) maintain that it is actually a relatively modern invention by the chef of La Maison Dorée in Marseilles. Writing in 1960, Elizabeth David maintained it was less than a hundred years old.

I'm writing about it because I'm pondering on what to do for nibbles on Saturday, and decided I would do dips. I haven't made tapénade for a while so thought I would give it another go. And maybe hand the leftovers out as presents. I'll have to make some other dips though because tapénad is not to everyone's taste is it?

So how do you make it? Well with endless variations it seems. Felicity Cloake of course will give you a summary of most of the usual variations, but the list is sort of endless. These are just some of the things that are often added - either all, or some of them and in varying proportion to those three main items - anchovies (the most common); tuna; various herbs - from herbs de provence, through thyme to parsley; garlic - well you would wonder how anything Provençal could not include garlic; brandy; vinegar; mustard; lemon juice and/or peel, sun-dried tomatoes. Robert Carrier mentioned onions but then didn't have them in his recipe so I don't know where that came from.

David Lebovitz has a couple of interesting alternatives - one with figs and another with artichokes for example.

However, everyone was agreed that the ingredients should be very high quality. The simpler the recipe the higher the quality of the ingredients it seems to me. Well they would all say that wouldn't they? Richard Ehrlich of The Guardian preferred green olives, because:

"Black olives yield a stronger, earthier taste; green taste more of pure olive"

Felicity Cloake, on the other hand prefers black:

"As I prefer the fruitier, earthier flavour of the black olive (green tapenade having a tendency towards astringency in my view)"

So this is obviously a matter of personal taste. And yes I'm afraid you should not use pitted olives. I would have suggested this but I just watched this rather silly video of Jamie and Gennaro, and learnt that if they are pitted they are not as juicy. And let's face it Jamie is all for short cuts, so if that's what he says, then it must be right ... Well unless you're feeling lazy. The end result would probably still be better than a bought one.

It's worth watching the video though, in spite of the pair of them being somewhat childishly silly, because it shows you a couple of very easy ways of pipping olives (well if your olives are ripe anyway), and also how to use the chopping method. Because of course there is the 'do you bash it all in a pestle and mortar, chop it, or just bung it in the food processor argument. Personal preference for the texture I think might be the deciding factor here. Food processors are easier, but then you have to wash them up. So you're a bit between a rock and a hard place there.

So having decided if you are going to put any extras in your tapenade and if so, which ones, and whether you are going to be lazy or virtuous, what do you then do with your beautiful tapénade other than using it like any other dip. Well almost anything really.

"Almost anything you can eat, apart from ice cream or brownies, will benefit from the addition of tapenade." Richard Ehrlich

I looked, and indeed I found no recipe for tapénade ice cream or brownies, although there were plenty of cookie recipes.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall had a few good ideas:

Push under the skin of a chicken before roasting it.

Mix a few tablespoons with breadcrumbs and spread over breast of lamb before rolling and roasting.

Serve on crostini with some crumbled soft goat's cheese.

Toss with just-cooked potatoes as a salad to go with grilled sardines.

Brush over a sheet of bought puff pastry, roll up, cut into thin rounds and bake at 200C/400F/gas mark 6 for 12 minutes, until puffed and golden. Serve as a nibble with drinks.

And I think I might use that last one on Saturday. But really there are hundreds of ideas out there. Just google it.

I found this very simple spaghetti dish - with breadcrumbs and cheese on a site called Fashionable foods, and if you want to be more elaborate and posh Delia has a roasted fish recipe that uses a sun-dried tomato and olive tapénade.

But really just keep a jar in your fridge and use it when you need to perk something up, or you have unexpected guests. Tomorrow.

"A taste older than meat, older than wine. A taste as old as cold water." Lawrence Durrell


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