food, time and tapenade with figs

A couple of months ago I started a cooking journal. Maybe to call it that is a bit of an exaggeration, but the idea is to keep a list of things I've been cooking. It isn't about recipes. There are no photos or illustrations. It is just a simple, straightforward list. An inventory of cooking and eating - the good, the bad and the ugly.

I was inspired by Georges Perec's "Attempt at an Inventory of the Liquid and Solid Foodstuffs Ingurgitated by Me in the Course of the Year Nineteen Hundred and Seventy-Four." Forever intrigued by archives and memory, Perec's inventory got me thinking about how we remember the larger picture. It is easy to flirt with details and to linger on a memory of one particular dessert, but how do we compose our memory of the whole?

I also like how one can read a list. At first it is like poetry, structured prose with pauses and stops. And then it becomes numbers and clear statements, such as that Perec drank 181 named bottles of wine, as well as an unspecified number of unnamed bottles, in the course of a year.

Now that, in addition to eating, I spend more and more time reading, studying, researching and observing how and what we eat and the cultural histories of food, I have less time to cook. This is precisely why I started this cooking journal of sort, this list, this inventory. I want to keep cooking, to record it, and better understand how I cook, what I cook, and how my cooking is influenced by the research I do about food.

Although I am not quite ready to record how many bottles of wine I drink, I like that this inventory will give me a clear answer should anyone ever ask how many times I cook pasta in a year.

I started my inventory in April. After a good start, my entries for June are rather sad. I am an exceptional list maker, so this does not reflect neglect in writing. Instead, it reflects a lack of cooking. June was, by far, the busiest month of the year for me, so I have been trying to make up for it by enthusiastically cooking my way from the end of June to the beginning of July.

In other words, I am sorry for the silence this past month. Please accept this Fig-Olive Tapenade as my apology.

The figs make this classic dish a little sweeter, a little more unexpected. Eat it with bread, crackers or pita toasts. Smear it on sandwiches or, as David Lebovitz suggests, even on grilled tuna steaks or chicken breasts. 


Tapenade aux Figues (Fig-Olive Tapenade)

adapted from 'The Sweet Life in Paris' by David Lebovitz

makes 6-8 servings


1/2 cup (85 g) stemmed and quartered dried figs
1 cup (250 ml) water
1 cup (170 g) black olives, rinsed and pitted
1 garlic clove, peeled
2 tsp capers, rinsed and drained
2 anchovy fillets
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp finely chopped thyme (or rosemary)
1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

Place the dried figs in a small saucepan and add the water. Simmer over medium heat, with the lid askew, until tender, about 10 to 20 minutes. Set aside to cool and then drain.

If using a food processor, pulse the soaked figs, olives, garlic, capers, anchovies, mustard, thyme and lemon juice to create a thick paste. Pulse in the olive oil unti the paste is chunky-smooth. Good tapenade should have a slightly rough texture, so do not overmix. Season with salt and pepper, if necessary, to taste.

If using a mortar and pestle, mash the olives with the garlic, capers, anchovies, mustard and thyme. Pound in the figs. Once the figs are broken up, stir in the lemon juice and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. 


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The summer issue of Chickpea has just been released online. Between great summer recipes, I've shared a story about snacking on palm sugar in Myanmar. The digital issue is available here, and the print issue is also available for pre-order.

Carmen Varner  – (July 10, 2015 at 8:10 AM)  

Sometimes life gets busy & that's perfectly okay. But YUM! This tapenade looks absolutely incredible. :]

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