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Tapenade in a pestle and mortarTwo regular characters in my Moss Reid series are Moss himself (a foodie who happens to be a PI) and Maggie Dardis (a techie who happens to keep popping up in the stories).

Here is how the former might explain to the latter the steps involved in installing tapenade on one’s supper table…

Think of it as a “Tapenade for Dummies”, although I can’t quite see these FAQs stretching to fill one of those fat paperbacks with a garish yellow cover.

In other words, the following short technical manual is written with an IT department in mind.

Q: What is “Tapenade 1.0″?

A: A scrummy sort of olive paste application. “Tapenade 1.0” sounds far more sunny and exotic and Mediterranean than “Olive Paste 8.5”, doesn’t it? But a bowl of tapenade is no mere paste. It’s a bit of heaven, a taste of the south of France.

Q: What’s it compatible with?

A: Toast, fresh country bread, crackers, crudités, or as the base of a rich salad dressing or pasta sauce. It also makes an interesting topping on a pizza base. Loads of things really, because Tapenade 1.0 is a multi-purpose multi-functional application for a wide range of operating environments – including Android and iOS.

Q: How do you install it? Does it involve a lot of cooking?

A: None. Just a bit of whizzing around of its components in a liquidiser or with a hand blender.

Q: Are alternative open source tools available?

A: Yes. For example, a lot of cheffy knifework. Or a pestle and mortar. The mortar is the bowl bit, BTW.

Q: What are Tapenade 1.0’s main components?

A: A tin or jar of pitted black olives – the ones that come in brine will do. Or green olives if you’re stuck. Or loose from a local market stall (in which you will have to run a de-stoning routine). It’s amazing how many local farmers’ markets in Ireland have fresh local produce such as olives, bananas and pineapples nowadays.

You’ll also need a couple of crushed garlic cloves, a good pinch of capers, two tablespoons of olive oil (extra virgin if possible) and two or three anchovies (the kind that come in little 50g tins in oil).

After making Tapenade 1.0 you might also want to drizzle on some lemon juice.

Q: YUCKY UCKY UCK! I absolutely HATE anchovies! Can’t we install it with something else instead?

A: Do not panic. The ancovies aren’t totally absolutely essential. And you should skip them if you’ve already installed Vegetarian 2.x of course.

But a bit of special alchemy happens when you apply the anchovies patch to Tapenade 1.0.

They don’t make it taste fishy – honest. What they do do is add a depth to the flavour. Believe it or not, anchovy paste is a key ingredient of Worchester Sauce, and that doesn’t taste fishy does it? It just makes things taste of, er, Worchestershire and sauciness.

Without anchovies, in other words, Tapenade 1.0 becomes plain old Tapenade 0.9.

Note: do not try to apply other fish such as mackerel, sardines in tomato sauce or kipper – this will generate a “Syntax Error” message.

Q: OK, OK, you’ve convinced me. I’ll include the anchovies. How do you install it then?

A: The whole thing? Well first you’ll need to do a bit of “unzipping”. Ignore the “Read_me.txt” document. Open the tin of olives, pour them into a sieve, give them a quick rinse with cold water and give it another shake to get rid of most of the brine.

Tip the olives into the liquidiser. The capers usually come in a brine of vinegary liquid, and you’ll have to get rid of this too – so plonk the capers (say a teaspoon’s worth) in the sieve, rinse them too, and put them on some kitchen paper and roughly pat them dry.

NB: all this rinsing isn’t strictly necessary (and will probably be skipped anyway once “Water Charges 2015” is released).

Some people think the capers are an optional extra. Rubbish. Tapenade takes its name from the Provençal word for capers, tapenas.

Plonk the capers in the liquidiser too, as well as the anchovies – including some of the lovely oil they come in – and all the rest of the ingredients. Whizz the lot in the liquidiser, and that’s it.

Q: Hold on, how long should I be doing this?

A: Blend until it’s reduced to a lovely spreadable dark paste (that’s if using black olives; if using green olives it will be a sort of khaki colour). The olives need to be whizzed until broken down into fine pieces, but not totally liquid – you’ll want to retain some texture. This isn’t the Large Hadron Collider we’re talking about.

If the top layer of stuff isn’t getting sufficiently liquidised, give everything a quick stir with a spoon, restart your application and whizz again. And that’s it. Serve immediately, or chill it in a jar or a dish in the fridge.

It keeps for a week in a covered jar (a week? Not a hope in our house).

Q: Are there any upgrades?

A: You can install Tapenade 2.0. over an earlier version of Tapenade 1.0. Simply add half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, another teaspoon of lemon juice and three twists of freshly milled black pepper.

As for Tapenade 2.1, sprinkle a tablespoon of roughly chopped fresh basil leaves just before serving.

Above image of tapenade in pestle and mortar: “Tapenade dans un mortier” by Berenguier Duncan – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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