Roaming about marketplaces in the South of France is a blaze of joyful colors and astounding perfumes. The heady smell of goat cheeses mixes with lavender sachets and Marseille soaps; spice and delicatessen stalls are squeezed between linens and Provençal nappes (the traditional bright-colored tablecloths with miniature botanical motifs—olives, lavender, sunflowers—or cicadas, the symbol of Provence). Herb-flavored olives show off their beautiful colors and shapes in olivewood bowls. And there, among them, various kinds of tapenades are handed by jovial marketers to passing-by shoppers to be tasted with slices of freshly baked baguettes.
There’s nothing I can do: whenever I happen to visit France, I need to taste some tapenade—which, incidentally, is a perfect accompaniment for fresh goat cheese and baguette.
Tapenade is basically an olive pâté flavored with anchovies and capers. Typically black olives are used, but green olive tapenades can also be found on market stalls. Making tapenade is actually pretty easy: olives, anchovies, and capers are ground together, then olive oil and lemon juice are added to blend the pâté, and finally, aromatic herbs are added, such thyme and laurel.
Originally, a mortar and pestle were used to grind ingredients, but a food processor makes the whole preparation much easier and faster. To get a richer and warmer touch, you can add three tablespoons of Cognac to the tapenade, as is common in some parts of France.
- 7 ounces black olives, stones removed
- 3.5 ounces anchovy fillets
- 1 garlic clove
- 1.7 ounces capers
- 50 milliliters extra virgin olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 pinch thyme
- 1 pinch ground laurel
- Freshly ground pepper
Editor's Note: Having trouble finding dried laurel? Pierino explains: "Also for the benefit of American viewers, laurel would be bay leaf, as in bay laurel. But don't use California bay laurel as it's about it's about four times stronger in flavor." AntoniaJames says, "I only had fresh bay on hand (a California variety, from my own bush) so I took pierino’s advice, and used but one tiny leaf, which I finely chopped. The result was perfect."
For more on French food (sans white tablecloth), head here.