Tapenade used to be one of those ‘things’ that I didn’t understand. It smells and tastes beautiful, and evokes romantic visions of lazy mediterranean lunches, but I never really knew what to do with it. Showing a stereotypical Britishness, I was confused because it’s not a chutney or a pickle, it’s not a jam and it’s not Marmite. I would see it on supermarket shelves and in delis, but leave it behind. I’d see it with some mustards whilst at lunch but wouldn’t know where it goes. Then eventually, my tapenade maturity arrived and I realised it goes with lots of things, and it’s an ingredient that makes simple pairings spectacular.
There are loads of ways you can use it, my favourite uses for tapenade are the following:
• With cheese
• Mini crostini with a dollop of tapenade
• Larger crostini spread with tapenade and topped with other ingredients (cheese, herbs, anchovies, olives, tomatoes, peppers etc)
• Stirred into pasta (it is a close relation to pesto after all)
• Served with a plain, sliced avocado as a starter.
• As a dip with crackers or crudités
Today, I’ve created a sun dried tomato tapenade, also called red tapenade, and you’ll also traditionally see green and black versions. These all relate to the primary ingredients used, red is sun dried tomato, green is green olive and black is black olive. Simple, eh?
In the past I’ve talked about enjoying deep rich flavours which can be obtained by completing long slow cooking processes. Well, tapenade is the opposite. Not that it creates light, insipid flavours, but that it’s has an exceptionally short and quick cooking process. In fact, scrub that, there’s no cooking involved, no heat added, you just whizz the whole thing up. Because the base ingredients are all powerful on their own, sun dried tomato tapenade is a really simple accompaniment to knock up with just a bit of rough chopping and a food processor for preparation.
The resultant flavour really is something else. You’re taking a raft of ingredients that singularly have strong flavours, and combining them together. It’s the sort of idea that shouldn’t work, but it does, magnificently. So if you’re like I was, back in those dark years, yet to reach your tapenade maturity, you’re missing out on a real treat, but you’re in the right place to start, right now.
I’ve done a vegetarian version here, but if you aren’t veggie, the addition of 2-4 anchovies (yes, another strong flavour) is a traditional ingredient that adds a bit more depth to the dish. It’s a dish that matures in flavour with time, so I would recommend leaving for a few hours or overnight for the ingredients to meld before serving, as some kind of symbiotic transformation seems to occour and the individual flavours all become one.
Sun dried tomato tapenade
By Gavin Wren
Serves 6, dependent on usage
Uses a food processor
150g sun dried tomatoes in oil, drained weight, roughly chopped
2 red chillis, de-seeded and roughly chopped.
1 clove garlic, crushed
25g basil leaves
50g kalamata olives, de-seeded and roughly chopped
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Set aside until ready to serve. This also keeps very well, so you can store it in an airtight container in the fridge for quite a while.