Every time I visit a market in France, I look for the tapenade vendor. Tapenade is a savory paste made from ground black or green olives and capers blended with garlic, dried tomatoes, anchovies, tuna, or herbs. Each vendor has several varieties on display, and sampling is encouraged. I taste several varieties and always find a new version or two to take home.
Tapenade is great on toasted French bread, slathered on sandwiches, with goat cheese, or stirred into mayonnaise to make a dip for shrimp or vegetables. Try it on a boned out leg of lamb before rolling and roasting, or put some inside a chicken before it goes into the oven.
Of all the varieties of tapenade I have sampled, my favorite has to be this one made with dried figs. It has a salty tang from olives, balanced with the mellow sweetness of the figs. Dijon, garlic, and fresh herbs round out the flavor. Sometimes I sprinkle the top with chopped toasted walnuts just before serving. I make a big batch and put it in a tightly sealed container with a slick of olive oil on top. It keeps well this way in the refrigerator for a month, so I can have it on hand for easy snacks or meals.
Provencal Fig and Olive Tapenade
Makes about 1-1/2 cups
3/4 cup dried figs, stem ends removed
1 cup pitted black or green olives
1 small garlic clove
1 tablespoon rinsed capers
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
Place the figs in a small saucepan with 1/2 cup water. Cover and bring to a simmer. Cook until softened, about ten minutes. Let cool. Drain the figs, reserving the liquid.
In a food processor, combine the figs, olives, garlic, capers, vinegar, thyme, mustard and black pepper to taste. Blend until the mixture forms a thick paste. Thin with some of the reserved fig liquid if necessary. Refrigerate the tapenade several hours or overnight.
Serve with thin slices of toasted baguette. Store leftovers in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator.