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April 23, 2008

Oh Live! And Turn Those Olives Into Tapenade


Let us explore this question – are there certain foods named for their uses, or for other more poetic reasons?


For instance, take the olive. There is reason to believe that, when its utilities were first discovered, it was named for the exclamation, “Oh, live!” an exhortation to its flavorful flesh.


Yet, despite the pleasure that the simple olive can offer, it finds itself in very few foods. Oh sure, there is the oil that bears its name, to which the source of, “Oh, live!” can be applied. The question, you see, is that in a world without olive oil . . . how could the living not envy the dead?


If this world exists, it is not this one, so we are free to imagine.


Our attention is turned to how the simple olive, too small on its own to satisfy much hunger, can offer an experience that is larger-than-life.


The answer to this is in the making of a spread, traditionally called tapenade.


Start with a handful of black olives. And, some chopped red onion. And, some garlic. And, some heart of artichoke. And, a handful of fresh basil leaves. And, lastly, some pine nuts.


Lay the ingredients out in front of you. They look, as they sit there, as though they might be combined into something of rare excellence, and evoke the thoughts of things Greek. Indeed, were you to throw this together with some spinach leaves and Feta, you could sit down to a rather lovely salad.


But we are after something different, something with more uses than to sit in a bowl and wait for someone with an affinity for plant life. This is how we honor the “Oh, live!” nature of the olive.


Combining them into tapenade is one of the simplest things in the world. There is some trepidation to sharing the secret for fear that it is so simple to create a thing of such magnificence that some might realize that a sound imagination is a better guide to the kitchen than another person.


But we will risk the thing.


There are three steps to making this. First, add all of your ingredients into the bowl of a food processor. Then, turn on the button for the food processor. The third step comes when all has been chopped into a paste of universal texture, when you turn off the food processor.


There is a fourth, optional step, which is to scoop your tapenade out of the mixing bowl. Here you may do that and store it in the refrigerator, or you may use it atop other food. In fact, it may be an easy assumption that the word tapenade is a corrupted form of the phrase “toppin’ all dat,” but it is not.


Perhaps not literally true, but it is true in spirit. What you have created is a versatile, interesting food that you can use to top all kinds of things, from bread to meat to even – when paired with goat cheese – hamburgers.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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