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The Anchovy Goes to Rehab (No, No, No): A Tasty Tapenade

tapenade1Anchovies. I’ll wait till the shrieks of horror subside… Are we good? Ok. Moving on. This recipe does, in fact, include anchovies. And olives. Two fabulous items terribly misunderstood in the U.S. I blame the pizza man. He’s the one topping his pies with vile, tasteless, tinny black olives and crusty, slimy, hypertension-inducing anchovies. Eckh.

Well. Let me clue you in; both anchovies and olives are delicious, many-splendored things that have nothing to do with their thankless, unappetizing positions atop your neighborhood pizza. Tapenade, the piquant spread from southern France, will be Exhibit A in my campaign to rehabilitate the tasty olive and versatile anchovy.

Based very, very loosely on a recipe from Mireille Johnston’s lovely book of Niçoise cooking, this version retains the wonderfully bright, rich tang of the original, but moderates it with increased amounts lemon and herbs. It is also stiffer than the original. I prefer to limit the amount of oil that goes in so it sticks better to whatever I’m serving it with–the dusky purple mixture looks lovely on a crostini with snow-white chevre… much less so ground into my carpet. And that is how I generally serve it, in a bowl paired with a log of goat cheese surrounded by little toasted rounds of baguette. Delicious. And if there are leftovers, it’s wonderful with fried eggs for a Huevos Niçoise the next morning.

I generally use half purple Kalamata olives and half green Cerignola olives. The traditional Niçoise olives are tiny, expensive, hard to find, and a huge pain in the ass to pit. They sometimes appear–pitted, no less–at the WF olive bar, so if you see them, use them by all means. But, as long as you avoid super salty oil-cured olives, heavily seasoned olives, and the aforementioned uber grody canned black olives, you should be fine with whatever kind tastes good to you.

Olive Tapenade
Adapted from Mireille Johnston, The Cuisine of the Sun
Yield: ~2 1/2 c

2 c pitted Kalamata olives
2 c pitted Cerignola olives
3 tbs anchovy paste (or 1 tin anchovy fillets, rinsed)
1 tsp sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
3 garlic cloves, sliced into thin shreds
3 tbs fresh parsley, minced
1 tbs fresh mint, minced
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 tbs fresh basil, chiffonaded & divided
5 tbs extra virgin olive oil

Pit olives if necessary and rinse well–very, very well–under cool water. Press gently to dry. Put in bowl of food processor with anchovy, sugar, lemon juice, garlic, parsley, mint, black pepper, and half the basil. Process till evenly minced. Stream in the olive oil while blending till a rough but even paste forms. Transfer to a bowl, mix in remaining basil and adjust seasoning, adding more lemon or pepper to taste.

Notes & Variations
This is delightful tossed with a thin spaghetti. Toss with the pasta and loosen it up with a little more oil and reserved water from cooking the spaghetti. Top with a little basil and you’re good to go.

Johnston, Mireille. The Cuisine of the Sun. (Boston, Biscuit). 1996.

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