Saturday, February 25, 2012

Tapenade – perfect for a forbidden picnic

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Following a few relaxing days in Montpellier visiting my brother and his lovely lass, I was about to take my leave when we passed the bank of signs in front of the fabulous Jardin des Plantes – France’s oldest botanical garden. The stern lettering said something along the lines of “Pique-niques - strictement interdit”. 
What’s that mean?” I asked.
“It means that picnics are mandatory in this area,” My brother said, “We must acquire a picnic immediatement –on pain of death!” I hardly needed encouragement. You know I love picnics, but I looked to his long-suffering beloved for confirmation. She shrugged and raised her eyes to heaven.

Conspiring to become tapenade...

Acquiring an instant pique-nique entailed an impromptu stop at the impressive organic market beneath the roman aqueduct of Les Arceaux: artisan breads, a paper bag of plump cerises, some fragrant fraises, and a quartet of punchy organic tapenades – black olive, green olive, white garlic, and sun-dried tomato. We smuggled our picnic into the 16th century garden and found a dappled glade in which to eat. I’d like to say it was the interesting conversation, the time spent with loved ones in such incredible surroundings, the cool relief of the shady trees in an almost 40°C heat that was the best part, but I’d be lying. That was all well worth living for, but in the end it was the black olive tapenade that made the day truly pop.

Some good reasons to visit gardens in the South of France

To take your taste buds to the South of France you will need...
150g black olives (de-stoned weight)
1½ tablespoons capers, well rinsed and patted dry with kitchen paper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 fat clove of garlic, finely grated or crushed
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1                    Place the first 6 ingredients in a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. If you are a sucker for punishment you can pound these ingredients together using a pestle and mortar.
2                    Add the lemon juice and olive oil and pulse until just combined. This is crucial. The finished product should have texture. Over-process to a smooth paste and you’ll end up with a bitter unpleasant oily yuk.

The tapenade is ready to eat right away, however if you have the patience to cover it and place it in a cool spot overnight you will be rewarded with a little alchemy.  The flavours meld and become even richer and punchier.

If you make tapenade regularly, you’ll develop your own flavour preferences. Ring the changes by trying different varieties of black olives (my preference is for the Greek Kalamata), using finely chopped fresh rosemary instead of thyme and swapping out the lemon juice for cognac. Great spread on good bread, it can also make a fantastic and lively topping for fish.

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