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Summer savoury, tapenade and the Columbus of the kitchen

I scored some summer savoury from Nathan at the Wild Country Organics stall he works on at Marylebone market on Sunday morning. Wild country Organics grows and sells beautiful and often unusual produce at farmers’  markets around London. Nathan is the most charming, helpful, cheerful fellow you could ever hope to meet and as big a draw as the things he sells. Summer savoury is the herb used in Provence when beans are cooked and also in tapenade. It is hard to find in London. There is also a winter savoury. The packet says sarriette, which I hadn’t known was what they call it in France. It is bitter in a way that is quite beguiling but you wouldn’t want too much of. It tastes, if you can imagine, a bit like Campari or Listerine, maybe. Recipes will almost always use thyme or possibly oregano, but in Provence tapenade is traditionally made with summer savoury.

I bought a lot of niceoise olives and set about my work. They looked for all the world like chocolate covered raisins. They were about the same size, too. For a short time they were my raisin d’être.  I put on some Pet Shop Boys and began to de-stone them. It was a pleasant enough twenty-five minutes, flattening them with the back of a knife then pulling the stone out with my fingers, but I wouldn’t want to repeat it. I was left with 200gm of olive flesh glistening in the bowl and not a single whole olive left in my house. Next time, I don’t care what they say about olives tasting better with the stone in, I’m buying them ready-stoned, or, at least, big olives.

I could have then, I suppose, in an earthy, authentic, peasant-y manner, pounded everything in a pestle and mortar. But come on, people. I put them in a blender with a clove of black garlic – I don’t much like the harshness of raw garlic and this is so much more mellow – about a tablespoon of savoury, a squeeze of lemon juice, four anchovies and half a jar of drained and rinsed capers. I pulsed. I poured in four good-sized glugs of good extra virgin olive oil. I pulsed some more. And then I had more beautiful tapenade than I’d expected. It was the colour I imagine crude oil, straight from the ground, to be. It was some kind of lovely but I wish I’d used less herb. By the next day the bitterness had softened and it was the best tapenade I’ve eaten.

But I wasn’t yet finished. David Leibovitz had once given a recipe for fig and olive tapenade. He used dried figs so I wondered what adding two fresh figs to the paste would be like. This is how great discoveries are made, I thought to myself. I was the Columbus of the kitchen. I put at least half of what I’d made the previous day back into the processor with the fruit and pulsed again. What emerged was an over-processed mush. I tasted it. It was oddly sweet. Too wet, too. I tasted it again. It was horrible. Oh, well, if you’ve never failed you’ve never tried, I consoled myself. Hmm, I wondered, there’s lemon in the tapenade, what would it taste like with orange..?

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