Friday, August 31, 2007
Alain Dutournier, chef at the very chic restaurant Le Carré des Feuillants in Paris, once said to me that he considers it uncivilized to drink without eating. I'm inclined to agree, even if it might sound a bit extreme. What could be more civilized, after all, than the Italian aperitivo with its array of tiny sandwiches and snacks?
The French sadly haven't adopted this generous approach and even on the Cours Saleya, with its year-round sunny terraces, I often have to content myself with a saucer of stale chips or a puny dish of olives. I've even been known to make a run to the local épicerie to buy my own peanuts or chips, which is not a very civilized thing to have to do.
What a shame, when rosé lends itself so well to the apéritif ritual. Sunny, crisp and never snobbish, rosé is my drink of choice all summer long. With a glass of rosé in front you, it's impossible to feel down because pink wine implies that the sun is shining and you're taking a moment to appreciate life, albeit in a less extravagant way than with a flute of champagne.
Some southerners believe that rosé tastes best when sipped near the sea - something about the way the salty air mingles with the aromas - and there may be some truth in that, but I like this low-profile Provençal wine so much that I'd like to see more people drinking it all over the world. Nothing tastes more natural than rosé with any of the Niçois dishes I love so much (what else could you possibly drink with salade niçoise?), but it also goes beautifully with Japanese, Thai or Indian food.
As I sip a glass of rosé while cooking - or should I say throwing together a salad, which is what I more often do in the summer here - there is nothing I like better than to whet my appetite with tapenade. Its name comes from tapeno, the Provençal word for capers, and anchovies have become just as essential an ingredient somewhere along the way. Of course I can buy good tapenade, particularly at the Cours Saleya market where some of the producers sell jars of this salty black paste made with their own olives, but making my own is a ridiculously easy pleasure.
The key, as you might have guessed, is to find a willing slave - er, partner - to help pit the olives. You can use the flat blade of a knife and squash each olive, or invest in an cute little olive pitter as I have. Use pitted olives from a can and you will regret it: tapenade can only be as good as its main ingredient.
Being in Nice I use the small fruit called caillette, otherwise known as the olive de nice. The true Niçois olive, which like many wines and a few foods has an Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée to protect it from imitators, ranges in color from pale green to purply black and is cured in a salt brine for at least two to three months. Wrinkly black Nyons olives also make wonderful tapenade.
Jacqueline Bellino, who produces organic olive oil in the hills behind Nice and has won prizes for her tapenade, changed the way I made this condiment. "You should keep the capers and anchovies to a minimum," she says. Her rule is to restrict these two ingredients to no more than five per cent of the total weight, allowing the flavor of the olives to come through. Like Jacqueline, I now make a very restrained tapenade - but that doesn't stop me from throwing in extras such as walnuts, herbs or a little lemon juice.
Tapenade is probably best enjoyed on toasted slices of good baguette, but you can of course cook with it as well. On the rare occasions that students ask to prepare rabbit in my cooking classes, we stew it with tapenade, tomato, onions and herbs, and you can also toss tapenade with pasta, fresh chunks of tomato and basil. Red mullet with tapenade is another classic local dish. Don't forget that green olives also make beautiful tapenade - try adding almonds, which complement their lighter flavor.
Makes about 1 cup
I prefer not to give a quantity for the oil, as the amount needed will depend on the oiliness of the olives. The blacker the olive, the oilier it is likely to be.
9 oz black olives (250 g)
1 tsp capers
4 anchovy fillets packed in oil
Good quality olive oil
Lemon juice (optional)
Pit the olives by pressing them with the flat blade of a large knife or using an olive pitter. In a food processor, blend the olives, capers and anchovies, adding enough oil to create a smooth mixture. Add a little lemon juice if you wish and black pepper to taste.