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Tapenade and the Siren call of summer

What a summer. Sweltering in places where swelter is unexpected, drenching rains where blue skies are typical, this year it is unpredictable, to say the least. But here in France it is as if no one even pays attention.  We sit outside on terraces, in gardens, amidst the apple trees and the bay laurel, overlooking the sea, or the vineyards or the city street, intoxicated with our precious freedom. If ever freedom to move, to see friends, to breathe unobstructed were taken for granted I suspect they never will be again.  Getting splashed by a quick outburst, or a little too warm in the sun goes unnoticed.

 Market Business as Usual

I went to the market on Saturday morning, walking down a tree-lined street, turning the corner which leads right into it, to receive a shock. Where alleys had been wide, vendors carefully spaced, customers few for the past year and a half, today it was business as usual.  Narrow alleys, navigating shopping carts and lines of people, the cacophony of vendors touting their wares, the basket weavers, rug repair people, hardware and clothing stands packed together while vegetables, fruits, and flowers seemed to overflow.  It was the market of “before” and everyone was caught in a heady mix of delight and confusion.  “Even I couldn’t quite figure out what to do, where to go,” said Maurice Philippe, a market gardener whose stand is one of the most sought-out at the Avenue Saxe market.  “Overnight, we’re back to business as usual.”

Busy Sidewalks

Sidewalks in Paris are back to being busy and crowded; the train to Normandy is filled with people going to Giverny to visit Monet’s house or further to Rouen or the coastal towns of Honfleur, Dieppe, Cabourg.  We can now go to the cinema, the museum, the swimming pool without reserving first, and restaurant tables are full.  Life is, it seems, back to normal.

Tapenade is Summer

What does this have to do with tapenade? Everything, for friends and families are getting together as summer vacations begin.  And tapenade, whether you live in the north, the middle, or the south of France, is the appetizer of the moment.  I went to a big summer party this weekend and took tapenade to add to the appetizer table – it was gone in five minutes.  At a summer meal, it is like a siren call that no one can resist.

Enjoy this debut of summer; may it signal many outdoor meals with friends and family.  If the rains come, put up the parasol; if the sun beats down, find the shade.  And serve tapenade.  Happy tapenade, happy summer!

TAPENADE WITH BASIL - TAPENADE AU BASILIC

Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: French
Keyword: anchovies, basil, Dijon mustard, garlic, olives
Servings: 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 8 top-quality anchovy fillets preferably those from Collioure, or packed in salt
  • 1/4 cup;60ml dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc – optional, for soaking anchovies
  • 2 cups;400g best quality black olives, preferably from Nyons
  • or from Turkey or Greece, pitted
  • 1 tablespoon capers preferably packed in salt, rinsed
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
  • 2 cloves garlic green germ removed
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons; 60-90ml olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves
  • For garnish:
  • Basil flower blossoms

Instructions

  • If using anchovy fillets in oil from Collioure or other excellent quality anchovies, there is no need to soak the fillets in the white wine, which is done simply to remove some of their salt. If using anchovy fillets packed in salt, the soaking is necessary. Place the anchovies in a shallow bowl and cover them with the wine. Let them sit for 15 minutes, then drain and pat dry.
  • Place all the ingredients except the oil and the basil in a mortar and pestle, or in the bowl of a food processor, and grind or process until the olives are ground to a thick puree. Slowly add the oil until it loosens the puree just slightly and is fully incorporated. Coarsely chop the basil leaves and add them to the tapenade, mixing well. Transfer to a serving dish, garnish with the flower blossoms, and serve with freshly toasted bread or high-quality crackers.

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