The best of many versions I tried in France was one made with both olives & figs
I’ve recently returned from several weeks in Provence with two Wine-Knows’ groups who stayed at the villa where Julia Child wrote her hallmark cookbooks, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. One of the classical culinary stars of this French region is tapenade. Tapenade is a finely chopped olive dish that is typically mixed with capers, anchovies, garlic, herbs and olive oil to form a thick paste. Traditionally spread on a piece of bread, it is used mainly as an appetizer, however, I noticed in the last few years that many restaurants in this area are using it in other courses as well (e.g. chicken stuffed with tapenade, or a vegetarian dish studded with tapenade).
Tapenade is everywhere in Provence. There are even dish towels and placemats with Tapenade recipes printed on them. There are vendors at every Provencal outdoor market hawking free samples of the delectable treat. I tasted tapenade in every flavor of the rainbow: artichoke, sun-dried tomato, eggplant, and even hummus tapenade. In every foodie shop I visited there were many different types available for purchase. Some used the pungent local Niçoise olives, others used a mixture of black olives. Some preparations featured only green olives, yet there were others that used a mixture of both black and green olives.
While I especially loved the artichoke and sun-dried versions, the one that really stood out for me was made with figs. I simply couldn’t stop eating it. I have tweaked several recipes and come up with my own fig masterpiece. Do note that my recipe does not include anchovies. While I love them, I felt they simply overwhelmed this version---regardless of how few I put in. (BTW: there is a traditional tapenade recipe featured in Julia Child’s cookbook but I much prefer the fig one as the figs add another level of complexity).
June's Fig & Olive Tapenade
- 1/3 cup dried figs (cut in small pieces)
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 C mixture of both green and black olives, pitted
- 1 1/2 tablespoon of lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1 small garlic clove
- 1/2 tablespoon capers (rinsed to get rid of brine, then drained & squeezed dry)
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme (plus more for garnishing)
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Baguette (sliced)
- Goat cheese (at room temperature)
Cook the figs with water on low-medium heat in a covered sauce pan for 20-30 minutes until they are soft. Save the juice for thinning the tapenade
Put the drained figs, olives, lemon juice, mustard, garlic capers and thyme into a food processor. Pulse several time to mix ingredients well and pulverize. With the food processor running, slowly add the olive oil a half of teaspoon at a time to incorporate it into the paste. Finally, thin the paste to the desired consistency with the left over fig water. Taste for salt and adjust if necessary.
Serve over toasted baguette slices (brushed with olive oil prior to toasting), with goat cheese on the bottom, then topped with tapenade and fresh thyme.