Monday, September 14, 2015

Provencal Tapenade Crostini

     Provence Style Olive Paste!
     A delicious French Provence region specialty!  Tapenade is an olive paste that can be spread on sliced bread, crostini or crackers.  Tapenade is usually served as a snack or appetizer.  Tapenade customarily is served with red wine to guests that relaxing on a veranda while watching the sunset.  
     Tapenade definitely is wine food for one good reason.  Good red wine cleanses the strong flavor of olives, capers and garlic from the palate, yet the flavor of tapenade is so interesting that it is easy to crave more.  This cycle leads to an evening of wine inspired decadence and merriment.
     Not only does tapenade taste bold and interesting, it is a healthy food choice too.  The olives and olive oil help to relieve hard cholesterol from the circulatory system and there is a slight blood thinning effect from the garlic too.   

     When selecting olives for tapenade, it is best to go with a blend, so the level of salt can be controlled.  Many kinds of olives are pickled in a strong brine.  Salty olives will yield a very salty tasting tapenade.  Ripe olives that are preserved in a light brine or ripe olives packed in their own juices can be added, so the level of salt is reduced.
     There are many kinds of tapenade.  Provencal Tapenade features olives from Southern France, like  Nicoise Olives.  Nicoise Olives have a classic bold ripe olive flavor, but depending on the packing house, they can be a little bit on the salty side.  Blending Nicoise Olives with mild tasting California Ripe Olives yields a comfortable tasting Provencal Tapenade that is not salty.
     Not all California Ripe Olives are created equal.  Cheap cans of commercial California Black Olives taste like cardboard.  It is better to spend the extra dollar to get a can of premium quality California Ripe Olives that taste nice.  
     The blend of olives can include a few green olives too.  Kalamata Olives are a poor choice for a Provence style tapenade, because the flavor will overwhelm the Nicoise Olives.  A few Oil Cured Olives will add plenty of rich depth without overwhelming the other flavors.

     Capers are always very salty.  The flavor of capers can be so strong that the tapenade will smell like some kind of an elixir or something.  Soaking capers in hot tap water for about 5 minutes will mellow the flavor and reduce the salt content.    
     Provencal Tapenade
     This recipe yields about 2/3 cup of olive paste.  (Enough for 5 or 6 slices of crostini.)
     The better the olives, the better the tapenade!  Unfortunately the best olives are not pitted, so they must be pitted by hand.
     I minced the olive mixture the old fashioned way with a sharp chef knife for the tapenade in the photos.  Of course, tapenade is much easier to make with a food processor, but hand minced tapenade does resemble caviar!  Tapenade actually used to be called "Poor Man's Caviar."
     *If the Nicoise Olives are not salty, double the amount of Nicoise Olives in the recipe and skip adding the California Ripe Olives.       
     Step 1:  Place 1/3 cup of chopped pitted Nicoise Olives in a food processor.
     Add 4 pitted Oil Cured Olives.
     Add 1/4 cup of chopped pitted mild tasting Green Olives.
     Add 1/4 cup of chopped pitted California Ripe Olives.
     Add 3 cloves of chopped garlic.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of capers that were soaked in hot tap water.
     Step 2:  Add 1 pinch of black pepper.
     Add 1 pinch of minced tarragon.
     Add 1 pinch of minced marjoram.
     Add 1 pinch of minced basil.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of anchovy paste.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of virgin olive oil.
     Step 3:  Pulse the food processor, till the mixture becomes a spreadable paste consistency.  Add a little more olive oil if the mixture is too stiff.
     Step 4:  Place the tapenade in a container.
     Chill for 30 minutes so the flavors meld.
     Place 5 or 6 slices of crusty French Baguette on a baking pan.
     Brush the bread with olive oil.
     Bake in a 300ºF oven till the bread is very lightly toasted and crisp.

     Snow Peas and Grilled Tomato Garnish: 
     This recipe yields enough for one appetizer plate.
     Step 1:  Julienne slice 5 or 6 snow peas.
     Heat sauté pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil.
     Add the snow pea strips.
     Briefly sauté the snow peas for about 15 seconds.
     Set the sautéed snow peas aside and keep them warm.
     Step 2:  Return the pan to the heat.
     Add 1 teaspoon of olive oil.
     Season 2 thick slices of tomato with coarse ground black pepper and sea salt.
     Sauté both sides of the tomato slices till light caramelized highlights appear.
     Remove the pan from the heat.

     Appetizer Presentation Of Provencal Tapenade Crostini:
     Spread the Provencal Tapenade on 2 to 3 crostini.
     Set the Provencal Tapenade Crostini on a plate.
     Set the sautéed tomato garnish on the plate.
     Place the snow pea strips on the tomato.

     A plate of Provencal Tapenade Crostini, a glass of Merlot-Syrah blend wine from the Languedoc- Roussillon region and a colorful sunset.  Relaxing after a long day does not get any better than this! 

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