I had to bite my tongue while Jody prepared this week’s Tomato Salad with Tuna Tapenade. The photographer in me was dying to speak up: Don’t you want to sneak a little preserved lemon into that? Some extra visual pop? Truth be told, my wife has always been a member of the “flavor first ” camp, with visual appeal a distant second. And we use preserved lemons in everything, so this week we’re giving tomatoes a turn, and tapenade. Is anything more summery than the crazy quilt of tomatoes just ripening in New England, along with an herby tapenade, basil and olive oil? If you’ve never sat down at a table with tapenade because you’re afraid it might once have dated an anchovy, then fear not. As Jody explains in her notes, this tuna tapenade’s for you.
Until the late 1980’s tapenade barely registered in the culinary sensibility of Americans. A quick search using the Times Chronicle tool shows that this chunky olive paste only showed up in a handful of New York Times articles before 1970, and even in the following decade, only a few annual blips on the oscilloscope, husbanding its resources until that glorious year 1996, when it appeared in a whopping 36 articles. Tapenade has long been elusive on menus, except as a kind of chunky alternative to the olive oil that some restaurants serve with bread, perhaps because it’s so easy to make at home restaurateurs clients won’t order it. Yet, judging by the tubs of green and black versions of it I’ve seen in every southern French market I’ve visited in the last couple of years, including one in Cahors a month ago, the French still consume it in quantity. In an age of candied pork belly tapenade can seem like a hayseed who wanders out of the olive grove into an alfresco candlelit dinner on his way to the barn. But we remain dedicated fans–it’s rich, it’s salty, it goes great with craft beer or anything else you care to drink outside and, God help me, it’s good for you. Our daughter swears by it in grilled cheese sandwiches. On top of perfect fresh tomatoes, well, I’d tell you how great they taste together, but tomatoes don’t need my help. In fact we should all stop talking about red you-know-whats right now before we suffocate in newsprint. 2014 NYT articles that use the word “tomatoes”: 435. And “tapenade?” Nine. So far, I like to think, so far. Enjoy. Ken
PanMass Challenge Update: Team Rialto-Trade’s intrepid cyclists raised over $128,000 from this year’s ride! Day 1 opened in Sturbridge with a 5:30 departure in the pouring rain that didn’t let up over the next 108 miles. Instead of our usual alfresco celebration that night on team member Marcy Jackson’s lawn, everyone huddled inside, eating off paper plates and drinking red wine, trying to dry out and stop shivering. Day 2 was much better–a further 86 miles on to Provincetown with some sun and only a few sprinkles. Many many thanks to everyone who donated. This brings the team total to over $375,000 in four years of riding to help the Dana Farber Jimmy Fund. Each year research advances and new innovations for the treatment of cancer are found because of the work of the Dana Farber. Donations will continue to be accepted here until the end of September. Thank you.
Tomato Salad with Tuna Tapenade
- ¼ pound un-pitted oil-cured black olives
- ¼ pound un-pitted assorted olives
- 1 ounce capers, rinsed
- 1 ounce drained water-packed albacore tuna
- 3 garlic cloves, grated on a microplane
- ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 1 tablespoon chopped thyme
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- Juice of ½ lemon
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon sugar, if needed
- 2 pounds assorted tomatoes (heirlooms, cherry–whatever looks best; the large ones peeled)
- Loaf of crusty rustic bread
- Arrange the olives in a single layer between paper towels or a dish towel you’re not concerned about staining. Bash the covered olives with a rolling pin or cast-iron skillet. Peel back the top layer of towel. The pits should easily come free. Combine the olives, capers, tuna and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to a rough paste while drizzling in ½ cup oil.
- Coarsely chop half the basil and add to the bowl, then add the parsley, thyme, lemon zest and juice. Pulse a few times. You are looking for a loose rough paste, not a puree. Transfer to a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
- Cut the large tomatoes into wedges and cut the small tomatoes in half or in quarters. Chop or tear the remaining basil leaves into two or three pieces and add to the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and toss gently. Taste. I added a little sugar to mine. It all depends on the intensity of the olives.
- Spoon the tapenade over the tomatoes and drizzle with the remaining olive oil.
- Serve with the bread.
I first made this tapenade on Cape Cod a few weeks ago when my mother spontaneously invited old friends over for a drink on the porch. We didn’t want to go into Hyannis to get hors d’oeuvres, so I opened the fridge to see what I could put together. She had everything I usually put into tapenade, except anchovies. I made it anyway, but since at least half the olives were oil-cured, the flavor was very intense. It needed something to soften the blow. Tuna. It worked. Some people just can’t get over the flavor, or the idea, of anchovies in tapenade. If you’re one of them, I think you’ll like this variation. My mother keeps a pot of herbs on the porch and they’re doing exceptionally well this summer so I plucked a handful and stirred them into the mix. If you make the tapenade a day or so ahead, wait to add the fresh herbs until just before you serve it.
Last Tuesday I demonstrated the recipe at the weekly Farmer’s Market that sits in the plaza between the Science Center and Sander’s Theater on the Harvard campus. It was lunch time and the plaza was filled with people just hanging out and enjoying the perfect summer day at the end of the super moon. In addition to farmers selling fruits and vegetables, there were food trucks, a vendor hawking tamales and grilled corn, and stalls for bakeries and cheese makers. I attracted a crowd, curious about what I’d be making. Some said “Oh yum, I love olives.” Others had never heard of tapenade and wanted a taste, but there was one sceptic. I didn’t have a food processor so I was chopping everything by hand. It really didn’t take very long. She frowned at the tuna, then shook her head and walked away when I added garlic. I smeared some bread with the tapenade, put a tomato slice on top and finished the whole thing with a delicious piece of Ruggles Hill goat cheese from the cheese makers just a few feet from me. Then I handed out samples. Lots of moans from the onlookers. When I closed my eyes and tasted, I was in the South of France. The crowd loved it and–surprise!–the garlic hater returned for her share.