I was a serious bookaholic from a very young age. On Saturdays, my mum would make the rounds of the butchers, the green grocers and the bakery in Westlands Shopping Centre leaving my little brother and me to squabble as we waited fractiously in the car. We were always careful not to carry on in front of her as she to and froed followed by shop assistants laden with bags for the boot because our reward for waiting patiently (hah!) was a visit to Lavington Green Shopping Centre. Mum would take my brother off to the sweet shop probably via the fishmongers as I browsed the wonderful books in the bookshop trying to decide which ones I should spend all my pocket money on. As I came to read more challenging books, I would usually have a dictionary by my side to look up words that I didn’t know and couldn’t make sense of. One day I realised that these definitions included a little note on the origin of the word – many hours were spent trawling through the dictionary and marvelling at where our words came from.
I have always been fascinated by provenance. What is the history behind things/people/ideas/languages/recipes? On a recent Bank Holiday Monday, I found myself sitting up at the bar in Polpo at lunch time in what can only be described as “continuing” birthday celebrations for my dear friend C which had started on the Thursday prior. Polpo model themselves on a Venetian “bàcaro” which literally translates as House of Bacchus – Bacchus being the Roman God of wine . A bàcaro is a small Venetian bar which serves local wines and little plates of cicchetti – tidbits of delicious food – predating the more well known Spanish custom of tapas by a few centuries. Polpo had run out of a couple of items on the menu (annoying) but had whipped up some replacements (laudable) one of which was an utterly delicious green olive tapenade crostini. As C and I discussed the ingredients in a tapenade, I found myself curious as to why something so intrinsically Provencal was being served somewhere which prides itself on its (utterly delicious) Venetian roots. Turns out that olive tapenades with anchovies can be found in ancient Roman cookbooks dating back to thousands of years before the appearance of the French word tapenade, or indeed the French language itself. The earliest known tapenade recipe, Olivarum conditurae, appears in Columella’s De re Rustica, written in the first century AD… So much lovely provenance in this story!
There are many recipes for tapenade but they all have the same basic ingredients – olives (usually black), capers, garlic, anchovies, lemon/vinegar and olive oil – in varying amounts. This is my take on it inspired by our visit to Polpo.
A Green Tapenade
- 200g green olives (pitted weight) or thereabouts
- 3 cloves of skinned garlic confit or 1 fat clove of raw garlic chopped
- 1 tsp capers
- 1 to 2 anchovies
- 1 Tbsp chopped parsley
- 2 tsp sundried tomato paste or red pesto
- Olive oil
- A squeeze or two of lemon
- You can either finely chop the first five ingredients for a more rustic texture or blitz them in a food processor for a minute or two. Either way, then stir in the sun-dried tomato paste and drizzle in some olive oil.
- Give the mixture a squeeze of lemon and taste it again. Adjust the flavours to your liking bearing in mind that they mellow as time goes on. Salt shouldn’t be necessary as there is plenty in the olives, capers and anchovies.
- Store it in an scrupulously clean jar and cover with a thin layer of olive oil. It should keep for at least a week in the fridge.
- Spread on grilled or toasted slices of ciabatta or baguette and enjoy with a glass of something suitable
- Spread a couple of tablespoons under the skin of a chicken before roasting
- Make a slit in the side of a thick fillet of cod/haddock and spread a little of the tapenade inside before cooking
- Top a thinner fillet of fish with a smear of tapenade before cooking
- Mix a couple of tablespoons into an oil and vinegar dressing and spoon over just boiled new potatoes