A few years ago, when Mary & I were visiting our dear friends the Ricchiardis in Torino, Constantino took me to a cheap Saturday market in a somewhat disreputable part of town, the sort of place where the flies hold a convention and you don’t ask the butcher when he washed his hands. I browsed around, mentally converting lire to pounds and then double-checking my figures—they were giving the stuff away! I came away from a shabby little stall with two kilos of sun-dried tomatoes for a sum which would have bought me a decorative little gift packet at Fortnum & Mason’s. (Although you could buy them in Piemonte, they didn’t figure prominently in the cuisine.) Fearing that they would go moldy long before I got through them, I packed them into a snap-seal plastic bag and tucked them away in the freezer.
Some months later, when making up Lulu Peyraud’s tapenade (Richard Olney, Lulu’s Provençal Kitchen), I had a sudden inspiration. How about a sun-dried tomato tapenade, partially substituting them for the olives? After fiddling with the proportions and the method, I came up with the following, which more or less follows Lulu’s original in other respects. Tapenade comes from the Provençal word for capers, so I’ve called this concoction tomatade. Why not?
8 oz sun-dried tomatoes and black olives, roughly half-and-half
2 anchovies or 4 fillets
1 ½-2 tablespoons capers
1-3 cloves pressed garlic
pinch of cayenne
1 teaspoon finely chopped basil leaves
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
Pour boiling water over the tomatoes to just cover; leave for a few moments and then drain. (The longer you leave them, the softer they’ll be, but the more flavor will be drawn out. I like to get them just soft enough so they won’t take forever to absorb the oil.) When cool enough to handle, chop them roughly. Reduce to a rough paste in a food processor along with the other ingredients, except for the olive oil. Add the oil a little at a time, checking the consistency as you go. It should be homogeneous and spreadable, but not sloppy.
The anchovies may be preserved in olive oil or canned, either with olive oil or salt. If the latter, rinse under running water and remove any salt crystals. Likewise the capers, which may be bottled either in vinegar or salt. How much salt you add to the recipe, if any, will be determined by the saltiness of these two ingredients.
Cayenne and garlic to taste. Don’t be shy—some rough Provençal types are really macho about it! Use the best olive oil, of course; it’s a prominent part of the flavor.
Note: This mixture will improve for at least a week, but it probably won’t be around that long. It needn’t be refrigerated if the weather is cool. The blanched sun-dried tomatoes will continue to soak up the olive oil for several days, so don’t hesitate to stir in more if the mixture becomes dry.
PROCESSING NOTE: Food processor blades start to get dull very quickly. New blades may chop almost as fine as a blender, but old blades will only chop roughly. For some tasks this is an advantage. If you want versatility, keep your old blade and buy a new one, reserving it for very fine, almost liquidized mixtures. And keep it out of the accidental reach of fingers!
PS: This time I bought semi-dried tomatoes from the Fresh Olive Company in the Borough Market. Moistly packed in olive oil, they didn’t need soaking.
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