I love pesto. Basil pesto and tomato pesto are my absolute favorites. Pesto can not only be used for pasta, but also for meat, fish, poultry or even sushi. There is hardly anything like pesto which is so easy to make, tastes so delicious and yet is so versatile in the way of using.
“Hardly,” I wrote. Just because there is still one thing from another great cuisine country: France, which is the equivalent to pesto. What am I talking about? I am talking about the so-called black gold of Provence: The tapenade!
When I tasted this pitch-black paste for the first time, it was during a biking tour through the Luberon National Park in Provence six years ago. Every day my husband and I were biking through the beautiful countryside and charming villages. I was totally blown away by the unique and wonderful atmosphere of southern France, the warm-hearted locals and of course the delicious food! One day we reached the village Loumarin, where there was a wonderful farmer’s market with a colorful variety of fresh vegetables, fruits, breads, olives, ham, salami, etc.. Everything edible and drinkable, anything you can imagine! All products came from the producers of the region. I felt like being in paradise! It is really no exaggeration. My eyes, nose, mouth … All my senses were totally overwhelmed by the colors, smells, tastes and by the sounds of the farmers and buyers.
We immediately parked our bikes. Full of curiosity, we strolled around the tempting market. Here we bought a couple of wonderfully fragrant regional spices, there we got some sweet smelling fruits. Then I saw that stall! The stall had more than ten large wooden barrels filled with gorgeous olives, in different sizes and colors! They were shining so beautifully in the warm light of Provence. I rushed over. The owner of these beautiful olives, a nice Madame, read the desire in my eyes. She smiled at me and said something in French to me. Help! All I understood of French was limited to “merci, au revior, bien, o la la”. That was it.
Luckily my husband came very quickly to me and translated what the lady said to me. She wanted to know if I liked to try her olives. Of course! The lady gave me some olives from each wooden barrel for tasting. They were so delicious! I really did not know which one should be my favorite. Then I saw the two barrels filled with indefinable pastes. One in green, the other in pitch black. They smelled like olives, but also like something else. The lady read the question in my eyes: ” Tapenade! Tre bien!” she smiled proudly. This was the first time for me to hear this word. She turned around and pulled out a fresh bread from the counter and cut a few slices, spooned the green and black paste from the barrels and greased them generously on the bread slices, then she gave us to try. What a crazy treat! Unlike any delicacy I had ever eaten ! I was immediately in love with ” tapenade “! We asked the friendly owner to fill two large jars with the wonderful tasting tapenade. I held these two jars and pressed them tightly to me, as if they were the greatest treasures in the world.
Beside the olives stall there was a stall where a baker family was selling their freshly baked breads and where we bought a bread with sun dried black olives. With our purchases we sat on an old city wall, from where we had a great view over the roofs of the beautiful old village. We unpacked all these delights and started with the most delicious picnic we ever had. We just couldn’t stop with those two glasses full of tapenade. It tasted indescribably delicious on the fresh olive bread! This flavorsome and aromatic, yet fruity taste! My favorite was the pitch-black olive tapenade. We enjoyed every bite with full devotion . Hmmmm ….! Oh la la! Today I still see the picture before my eyes : A sunny afternoon, the beautiful little village with its stone houses and orange colored roofs to our feet… My husband and I sat on the ancient city wall and our smiling faces were glowing from happiness and satisfaction…
Since that memorable culinary experience, I have spent years trying to recreate this taste for me. I do not even know how many different recipes, how many different olives from different countries and areas I’ve been experimenting with. But never, not even once could I conjure up this taste from my memory, not even close to! It became more and more clear that I needed the right olives to reproduce exactly this taste from my memory. I had almost given up and tried to convince myself that this taste lived only in my memory and was corrupted by the typical holiday feeling. Then one day I was in the Stuttgart Market Hall, where I discovered these pitch-black olives from Provence at a small olive booth. My heart was beating so fast. These olives looked so much like the ones I had tried on the market in Loumarin! I asked the owner to give me some to try: Yes! Got you, at last! These olives had to be the right ones, my tongue and my gut feeling were telling me. I took 500g of those lovely olives. At home I could not wait to start my attempt for the umpteenth time.
The pitting was not as difficult as I had feared. The cores could be removed easily if you put on disposable gloves and broke the olive slightly apart between your fingers. It didn’t even take me half an hour until I had all 500g of olives pitted (compared to my experience up to that point it was really a very short time). When the tapenade was done, I carefully lifted the lid of the blender. An alluring fragrance rose to my nose. Greedily and deeply, I was tracking that scent with eyes closed: This fragrance was so familiar! That’s a good sign! I could not wait any longer and spooned from the pitch-black paste. I spread a thick layer of it on a slice of Baguette and took a bite: Oh la la! I cried out with such joy and excitement! This explosion of flavor in my mouth, indescribable, unbelievable! That’s it! All these pictures of the farmer’s market in Loumarin, the light, the smells and the colors of Provence passed revue before my eyes. I was there again, in enchanting Provence! I could not believe it: I made it! I danced and laughed in my kitchen, a spoon in one hand, a slice of baguette with the fantastic tasting tapenade in the other. At that moment I was feeling like the happiest woman in the world! 😀
Now I would like to share my secret recipe of the ultimate tapenade with you! I wish you a lot of joy preparing and especially tasting the tapenade! The recipe is adapted from the book “Mini Culinaria Provence”. I only made small changes with the amount of ingredients. The most important are the correct olives. If it is possible, you should take the pitch black olives from Provence, which are dried under the sun. As already mentioned, just like the Italian pesto, tapenade is universally applicable. In the coming weeks I will post some of my “East meets West” creations with the tapenade. Until then, have fun with your own tapenade! 😀
500g black olives from Provence (with seeds)
2 anchovy fillets in oil
1 clove of garlic
3 teaspoons small capers
A few basil leaves
Good quality olive oil (Extra Virgin)
- Remove the olive seeds using disposable gloves so you do not get black nails and hands.
- Fill the pitted olives in the chopper and chop finely.
- Cut the anchovies into small pieces, put the pieces into a mortar and pound very fine.
- Also chop the garlic clove, crush it with capers and basil leaves together in a mortar.
- Mix everything together and pour olive oil in a thin stream while grinding, stirring constantly, until the consistency is smooth.
- Decant the tapenade into a glass container and cover with a generous serving of olive oil. It tastes heavenly with oven-warm baguette.