A couple days after Christmas, Jessica called to inquire about my holidays. I told her about my sickness, what I made for our meals and what I got for my presents. "What did you get?" I asked. She excitedly told me her parents had gotten her a food processor. I was so very thrilled for her. My Cuisinart is one of my favorite cooking tools, certainly my favorite on any of my kitchen electrics. "Make tapenade!" I commanded. Other than pesto, tapenade is one of the most satisfying things you can make with a food processor. Sure lots of other recipes call for its use, but usually it's a step in a more lengthy set of instructions. Whereas tapenade and pesto, it's pretty much ALL about tossing in the ingredients and pulse, pulse, pulsing away.
Inspired by the new addition to her kitchen family, I decided to make myself some tapenade. Tapenade is something I pretty much always have on hand in my refrigerator. I LOVE it. Very few days go by where I'm not slathering some onto a cracker or a crostini along with a little goat cheese. In fact this little nibble is sort of my go to whenever I want to do a quick, easy snacky snack sort of thing before dinner, either for myself or when I've having people over. In fact, did exactly that for a very intimate New Year's Dinner Annie and Pierson invited us over for. This recipe in particular comes from Sunday Suppers at Lucque (are you tired of me yammering on about that book yet?) and was designed to be served along with the rack of lamb dinner that I did for Christmas. This tapenade was one of my favorite things from the whole meal so I decided to make another batch, this one doubled. I mean really, you can't have enough tapenade around, right?
What I like about this recipe is the use of the mellow yet rich Nicoise olive. Most tapenades I encounter use Kalmata or big green Spanish olives. The Nicoise is a nice little twist. In the book, Suzanne has you pound the olives in a mortar and pestle, which I did for the batch I served on Christmas. But since I was doubling the recipe and didn't want to end up with sore forearms and wrists (what am I, some old Italian housewife?), the Cuisinart was the only way to go. However, there is the possibility that the processing can make turn the olives into paste that is a little too smooth for my taste. My solution is to blitz half the olives into a paste and the coarsely chop the other half and then combine them. I prefer the variant textures of the olives that way.
2 cups Nicoise olives, pitted
1 1/2 tablespoons salt packed capers, rinsed
2 anchovy fillets, rinsed
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 cup good extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
juice of half a lemon
a grinding of black pepper
In a food processor, combine 1 cup of the olives, the capers, anchovy fillets, garlic and olive oil. Process until everything is combined and the olives have formed a coarse paste.
Scrape into a medium bowl.
Meanwhile coarsely chop the remaining cup of olives and then stir into the olive paste mixture, along with the chopped parsley.
Squeeze in the lemon juice and add a couple grindings of black pepper.
So like I said, by pulsing half the olives in the food processor to for a smooth paste and then folding in the chopped olives, the tapenade ends up having a really great, rugged texture. The nicoise olives are meaty with a full-bodied yet mellow flavor which brightened by the citrus. The lemon also cuts through through the richness, sort of lightening it up. I've been reading Bill Burford's book Heat, and in it he notes that Mario Batali feels that everything could benefit by at least a spritz of some sort of acidity, be it citrus, vinegar, what have you. Sort of like how in baking, a pinch of salt doesn't so much add a salty flavor as it does make the other flavors taste more pronounced, it seems like the same could be said of a finishing splash of citrus. Whether or not Mario is the authoritative voice on all things food related, this idea seem to be quite true, at least in this instance anyway.
In addition to spooning little mounds onto crackers, I love to slather a piece of hearty fish, like a halibut, swordfish, or sea bass with some tapenade and either bake or broil for a quick and easy weeknight dinner. If you broil, toss in a couple cherry tomatoes and some wedges of red onion. As the fish cooks, the edges of the red onion char and the tomatoes blister and pop. Serve the whole thing over a mound of couscous or quinoa mixed with olive oil, lemon juice and some parsley. You can pretty much do the same thing with chicken breasts or thighs, although, unless they are very thin, most likely you'll have to bake them, rather than broil. It would also be fantastic spooned over roasted or grilled red meat.
Makes about two cups