Thursday, March 13, 2008

March 13: Tapenade

I got my start as a food blogger writing about dip.

I wrote about how much I love dip, how, for me, things like raw veggies and chips and French bread are like little delivery trucks, bringing total goodness from a bowl in front of my face straight to my mouth: Hello, lover.

One time, a few years ago, I went to an art tour with my mother in a series of venues downtown. Some of them had great wine and snacks, some of them had Two Buck Chuck and cubes of grocery-store cheese, and one place had vegan health food snacks. Never one to pass up even questionable vegan dip, I dipped a carrot stick in the bowl of the curious greyish substance, and ate it. Filled with an immediate and pervasive sense of deep regret, I sought out some kind of awful deathberry-wheatgrass juice blend to try to wash down the mystery dip. It was the only time I can remember dip being a totally unredeemably bad, nothing good about it. I can't even fathom what on earth was in it.

On the other end of the spectrum is the year that my stepfather was in Guam with the Red Cross at Thanksgiving--he is a retired high school administrator who got tired of playing golf so he went to work doing disaster relief--and my grandmother and uncle were in North Carolina, and it was just going to be my mother and I, so we went to a friend of hers' house. The snacks before dinner that day were great, one of the reasons that I vastly prefer Thanksgiving Snacks to Thanksgiving Dinner. One of the snacks was tapenade.

Tapenade is a dark, lusty sauce that tastes like Greece, Southern France, and Italy, all mixed up together. When I tell you that it's pretty much the greatest thing ever, I'm not overselling the thing. Cut the top quarter off a pint of cherry tomatoes, hollow them out with a teaspoon, and stuff them with tapenade. Mix it into the stuffing for hard-boiled eggs. Thin it out and use it for a dip for crudites, toss it with cold pasta. Spread it on bruschetta, top it with goat cheese, and broil it briefly. Put it on grilled cheese sandwiches. Tapenade is great stuff.

The ingredient list is long and full of things that I don't generally keep on hand, like anchovies and capers and fresh thyme. Tapenade isn't something I make often, but occasionally, I'll go ahead and do it, just because it's so good. Don't worry about the anchovies--they don't make the thing taste fishy, they just round out the flavors into something bigger than the sum of its parts.

Okay, the "black" olives: listen, don't go buy a can of black olives in the olive aisle at the grocery store. Go to your Fresh Fields or your Whole Foods or whatever grocery store you like. Buy great, great-tasting olives off the olive bar, those little black wrinkly ones or kalamatas or--whatever you like, basically, as long as they taste good and they don't taste like the can that they come in.


1/2 pound black olives, pitted, drained of their liquid
4 anchovy fillets
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest
8 sprigs of thyme, leaves only
4 tablespoons olive oil

Place all the ingredients except the olive oil in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse to blend. Add the oil and pulse a few more times to form a cohesive but still coarse paste.

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