We all have one: that food we just don’t like. Something we simply can’t tolerate — an ingredient that can make a whole pot of soup inedible, a whole pizza flavored with that certain undesirable something.
I’ve noticed that while many people are honest about things like just not liking onions, or hating the texture of sour cream, chefs (and probably other culinary professionals) feel ashamed when they don’t like an ingredient.
I once confessed to a chef that I didn’t like olives. He said, “Then taste one every chance you get. Eventually you will sit down to eat one and enjoy it.” His idea was that it’s not acceptable to be a culinary artist and just not like one of the ingredients–chefs should be able to see the value in everything they have available to create with. But still, you’ll find that many chefs have some ingredient they secretly despise, from something as simple as tomatoes to something as “out there” as sea urchin or sweetbreads.
It’s been three years since I heard that advice about olives, and I’m here to report that I am finally showing signs of crossing over. I don’t know why I ate so many olives when I knew I wouldn’t enjoy the experience, but, as predicted, I’m starting to like them — the kalamata variety, anyway. The others are still a no-go.
This tapenade is sort of like an olive gateway — the addition of capers, garlic, and parsley makes it just familiar enough, and spreading it on sourdough toasts gives me a lot of other flavors to layer with the briney olive.
Here’s one way to serve the tapenade — on toast with soft-boiled eggs and a drizzle of olive oil — but you could serve this any number of ways: mixed with olive oil for smothering crackly bread; with hummus; spread on a sandwich; with ricotta cheese and tomatoes on toasts; on a mozzarella, basil, and tomato panini; the list goes on. Any way you look at it, it makes a great refrigerator staple and an impressive (yet super easy) condiment for entertaining.
I made the eggs for these toasts in a sous vide, a machine that circulates water and keeps it at a constant temperature. It allows you to cook food in vacuum-sealed bags to an exact temperature. It’s great for getting a perfect medium-rare steak, but I used it for some 68 C eggs, which you can simply cook in the shell, like you would when boiling eggs. Back in the restaurant, we cooked eggs to maybe 60 or 65 (I’ll have to peruse my old recipe book) and used the resulting yolks to make a paste (egg heaven). These 68 C eggs are slightly firmer. You can gently crack and serve them with some egg white still on, or just spread the yolks across toast and top with tapenade. I recommend the latter.
If you want to serve this tapenade with soft-boiled eggs and don’t have a sous vide, just cover several eggs in water, bring to a boil, remove from heat, put a lid on it, and wait 7-10 minutes. Then submerge eggs in ice water before gently cracking (by rolling against the side of your sink, for example), and slice them or rinse off the whites to reach the yolks. Try these two how-tos if you’re looking for a more specific guide to soft- and hard-boiling eggs.
Makes 2 ½ cups
2 ¼ (275 g) kalamata olives, pitted
¼ cup (50 g) capers, rinsed
1 garlic clove, peeled
¼ cup fresh parsley leaves (optional)
1 Tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil + more for storage and serving
Cracked pepper, for serving
1. Add olives, capers, garlic clove, parsley, and lemon juice to a food processor and pulse until you reach a consistency between sand and gravel — you want pieces the size of tiny couscous grains or slightly smaller.
2. Add olive oil gradually, pulsing a bit more to combine.
3. To store, cover with a layer of olive oil and refrigerate in an airtight container. The olive oil will solidify in the refrigerator to make a seal across the top of the tapenade. If using fresh parsley, I recommend using this tapenade or freezing it within a week, as the parsley can go wilty. If not, this should keep indefinitely — as long as any other pickles or olives would in your refrigerator.
When serving, it’s common to thin tapenade with more olive oil, depending on your tastes. How would you serve this briney delight?