There are some foods that just fit me like a glove. Foods that mingle up my favorite flavors, all at once, and deliver them in walloping bites. Foods that not everyone loves as much as I do, giving me full license to pretend I’m just more sophisticated than they are (all the while stuffing whatever’s left into my greedy maw). Olive tapenade is one of those foods.
I never met a salty briny thing I didn’t like, and tapenade’s got a trifecta of them: olives, capers, and anchovy. Mashed or blended with a healthy punch of raw garlic and a glug of olive oil, these three make one of the most weirdly compelling foodstuffs I’ve ever met. A good tapenade is salty but not withering, spicy and nose-tickling from the garlic and gardeny-fragrant from olive oil and herbs. Slather some on a piece of crusty bread, and I’m powerless to resist. Dollop some on fish or stuff it under the skin of a chicken, and I swoon. Use it as a salad dressing or pasta sauce, and I’ll be over at your house before the plate hits the table.
This particular tapenade started with a pack of oil-cured olives I found in my boyfriend’s fridge. Oil-cured olives are particularly powerful things–ugly as sin, to be sure, all black and wrinkled and greasy, but with an incredible salty wallop and lovely oily finish. They’re far too gutsy to use on their own in a tapenade, which is why I jumped at a recipe that called for a mix of olives and dried figs. The combination of funky-sweet fig and salty-sharp olive, with the potency of garlic and the deep savor of anchovy, is absolutely phenomenal. I ate it on bread until the bread was gone, and then scraped out the bowl with a spoon. I think my friends avoided me for the rest of the day, but eh. Their loss.
As with pesto, there are several ways to make tapenade. (In a way, I suppose a tapenade is kind of like a pungent olive pesto.) You can chop it finely with a knife, mash it together with a mortar and pestle, or blitz it to pieces in a food processor. I like my tapenade with a little bit of texture–slightly bumpy, in a way. But it’s a matter of taste, so take it to the consistency that feels right to you. And then hide it from me, or I will eat it all and leave none for you.