Friday, January 27, 2017

Party Favor: Green Olive Tapenade

I love dinner parties. Not fancy-schmancy, dress-up affairs where people make polite small-talk over hors d'oeuvres, then sit down at a table groaning with myriad special-purpose forks and spoons. (Can you tell I've been watching too many British life-in-the-manor shows?) I prefer small gatherings where the question isn't "what should I wear" so much as "what can I bring."

It's probably because I grew up with parents who had friends over for dinner frequently, where the laughter and conversation filled the house as full plates were decimated and bottles of wine were emptied.

Potluck dinners provide great opportunities to get new recipes, since people tend to bring favorite bites they only make for special occasions—my brother's deviled eggs with pancetta leaps to mind—or when they want to try out a new recipe, a practice a surprised guest once scolded me for but I still do on a regular basis. After all, what better time to try a labor or ingredient-intensive dish? Pour enough wine and your guests will forgive (or forget) any minor disasters!

One such recent gathering featured an intriguing appetizer that I first took to be guacamole because of its brilliant green color, but on taking a bite I was startled to find it crunchy and sparked with lemon and garlic. But what was it?

I immediately turned to Michael Schoenholtz, a terrific photographer and the one who brought the fascinating tidbit, and asked what this deliciousness was. Turns out that he had been working on the recipe ever since he'd had it at a restaurant, tweaking and fiddling to recreate the experience he remembered (an exercise in patience that I seldom can manage). Based on the intensely bright green Castelvetrano olives which I've been flirting with for years—I love them plain, marinated in orange zest or chopped in a salad—and which are a ubiquitous presence in grocery store olive bars, it adds Meyer lemon juice (be still my heart), garlic, almonds and mustard seeds to achieve that intoxicating flavor.

Better yet? It can be made in a food processor in minutes. Now I'm toying with the idea of mixing the ingredients into pasta or serving it with fish or on crostini, so you may be seeing a similar combination again. So try it, and feel free to take it to your next potluck!

Castelvetrano Olive Tapenade
From Michael Schoenholtz

40 pitted Castelventrano olives
1/3 c. blanched, unsalted almonds (slivers fine)
1/3 c. fresh fennel, roughly chopped
2 tsp. garlic, minced
1/2-1 c. Italian parsley, roughly chopped
3 oz. Meyer lemon juice
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1/2 c. olive oil
Salt to taste

Place all ingredients except olive oil and salt in food processor. With processor running, drizzle the olive oil in a steady stream until the mixture is a coarse blend. (You don’t want a smooth purée, so don't dawdle.) Empty processor into medium-sized mixing bowl and stir in salt to taste.

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