Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Provençal tapenade

There is a theory supported by historians that wine and its production descended from Greek explorers who settled in southern France about 2500 years ago. It has been suggested by these historians that the world's biggest wine industry might never have developed had it not been for some pioneering Greek explorers who settled comfortably into the south of France around 600 BC. It is thought that the Greeks founded Massalia, now known as Marseilles, which became a bustling trading site where local tribes of Ligurian Celts undertook friendly bartering.

I will not challenge these theories but when one looks at the ingredient list of this Provençal dish of black olives, capers, anchovies and olive oil, one might think Italian, Greek or perhaps even Spanish. The French, and I think rightly so, have claimed this combination of summer flavours as their own, with the name originating from the Provençal word for capers, tapéno.

Despite its possibly contested origins, this versatile combination is used on a daily basis in France to bring a summery, Mediterranean flavour to bread, fish, lamb, and chicken.

It is most traditionally eaten as an hors d’œuvre spread on crusty bread rubbed with garlic.
I saw these little bites of goodness in a Paris delicatessen almost ten years ago and although I did not buy and taste, the image of the colour contrast has never left me.
I love the very black, slightly chunky, oily blackness against the white, impenetrable albumen of the egg.

They make the most delicious nibbles to have with a glass of very cold, slightly sweet white wine, or as my brother says a glass of cold, bubbly beer....

For the tapenade, you will need:

30 black oily stoneless olives
10 capers, rinsed from their salt, vinegar or brine home
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
20 g of tuna, Ortiz or raw tuna, cooked on the pan (I used Ortiz as it is much easier)
2 full egg yolks, hardboiled
1 large squeeze of lemon juice
1 large glug of olive oil
freshly milled black pepper

Boil six eggs, peel, half and remove the yolks. These will be the receptacles for the tapenade.
In a pestle and mortar pound the olives, capers, egg yolks, garlic and tuna until they are well broken down and only small pieces of the olives remain visible.
Add the lemon juice and a large glug of olive oil and mix until you have a paste-like consistency. Taste and add more lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper as your taste requires.

This recipe traditionally uses anchovies. In this case, I would normally add boquerones (anchovies preserved in oil and vinegar) but I do think that the tapenade with the olives are quite salty enough without them.
You can add the anchovies but I would guard against using the tinned variety as these have a concentration of saltiness that really no palate can deal with.

Spoon tapenade into the egg white and serve.

As an alternative, use smaller quails eggs which are more dainty as an hors d'oeuvre or small toasted bread crostini bites.

Perfect for a five o' clock nibble ...

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