More than just a gutsy Provençal dip. This dark, piquant paste can be eaten spread on hard-boiled eggs (quail if you’re feeling flash), with strips of raw vegetable, hunks of French bread and so on as a starter. It can be made hours beforehand and keeps for days in the fridge, so goes well before main courses which require last minute fuss.
Recipes vary wildly. My first introduction was the version from Irene Canning, chef/proprietor of Gibson’s restaurant in Cardiff, published in
Elizabeth David’s recipe in French Provincial Cooking keeps the full force of the original, including a squeeze of lemon juice and optional extras of mustard and a few drops of ‘Cognac or other spirit’. Others leave out the tuna or include garlic, freshly ground black pepper and a leaf or two of fresh herbs such as basil, bay, thyme, mint or flat-leaf parsley. I have found fino sherry a happy, although completely unauthentic, addition.
A common snack-time elaboration is to mash some finished tapenade with the yolks from halved hard-boiled eggs, then pile the mixture back into the whites.
It is relevant here to restate the importance of the quality of ingredients even if none of them are fresh. There is a truly remarkable difference between a good tapenade – made from tiny sweet Niçoise or lushest Greek olives, dry salted rather than brine-packed capers, best extra-virgin olive oil, good Italian canned tuna and bottled anchovies available from specialist delicatessens – and a corner-cutting version made from cheap supermarket substitutes.
Pound the first four ingredients in an enormous pestle and mortar (difficult) or whizz up in a food processor or liquidiser (easy). Work in the olive oil, drop by drop at first, as if for a mayonnaise, to prevent curdling. Stir in the sherry. Spoon into serving bowl.
© 1988 Jeremy Round estate, represented by AM Heath. All rights reserved.