Comes the evening and as the heat drops, people gather in the gardens or the courtyards and set up the table with these essentials of a succesful mediteranean aperitif. Rosé is rosé, and tapenade is a creamy appetizer spread on bread circles which was probably invented with torture in mind : you eat one and can't wait for the next...
Now, if you can buy tapenade everywhere in Provence, on the street markets [picture on left], in the épiceries, and even on the internet, its retail price may justify that some call it the caviar of provence: the tapenade is outrageously expensive (often more than 40 Euro a kg) and with the quantity needed for a party I don't know how people can cope with the cost of what has become a new basic commodity of life in Provence. That's why it's worth_and gratifying_ to do it yourself...
"Epityrum album, nigrum, uariumque sic facito: ex oleis albis, nigris, uariisque nuculeos eicito; sic condito: concidito ipsas, addito oleum, acetum, coriandrum, cuminum, feniculum, rutam, mentam; in orculam condito: oleum supra siet. Ita utitor." which means (Latin Homework....) :
"Make green, black, or varicolored epityrum in this way. Pit the green, black, or varicolored olives. Season them thus: Chop them, and add oil, vinegar, coriander, cumin, fennel, rue, and mint. Put them in a small jar, with oil on top and they are ready to use." ( from "A Taste of Ancient Rome")
The ingredients needed to make your own tapenade are easy to find, in France at least : olives, capers, anchovies, lemon and garlic. Once you will have made your first tapenade, you will wonder how you didn't try it before. The recipe has many variants and you may try to change the share of the ingredients or add new ones, but capers are very important as this traditional condiment plays the role of a taste enhancer and brings acidity to the mix. As strange as it may seem, the capers are actually flower buds which have been picked on a small mediterranean bush right before they blossom. They have been then put into a salty water solution to remove a natural bitterness. Like for the really important ingredients, you won't distinctly feel their taste in the final dish, but their acidity and delicate aroma make them irreplaceable. They are a favourite ingredient in the cuisine of the Mediterranean countries. This page about capers (in french) gives several recipes where they play a role.
Don't be intimidated by the traditional mortar and pestle, this makes more picturesque pictures, and you can do it easily with a kitchen food processor. What I do usually is crush first a soup spoon of capers (after having rinsed it too) with the garlic, then I will add some olives, then the anchovies, then a couple more spoons of capers and the rest of olives, and at the end, the lemon juice. You'll probably use a food processor, and everything you have to do is finely chop the mix, several pulses usually do the job. Stir the mixture a few times in between.
Now, you guess that we have a wine to go with this dish, and I can hardly think of any other wine than a rosé. But be careful, the tapenade is a little greasy and even though you can forgive everything by a beautiful evening in Provence, it pairs best with a strong-character rosé, a gastronomic rosé. Several Bandol Rosés would have made a good match I think, but I chose a more affordable option : a rosé 2006 from Chateau Lafoux, I tasted it at the Maison des Vins des Coteaux Varois in La Celle (Var), where you can taste for free 25 to 30 different wines of the Coteaux Varois Appellation. This rosé is a Cinsault-Grenache-Syrah blend with a price tag of 6,6 Euro. Its mouth is ample and well-structured, which is what you need to balance the tapenade.