Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Things You Must Do

I am still working, in a rigorously desultory manner, on my list of things that every food enthusiast should accomplish during his or her lifetime. The publication of this list is perhaps no nearer at hand than the publication of Mr. Casaubon's Key to All Mythology, but I do have at least a couple of items to suggest.

Putting something on your list, by the way, does not necessarily mean that you get to do it once and call it an accomplishment. Sure, there are things that you're not likely to do more than once, especially if they're expensive and/or far away, but just because you all should pick a ripe tomato from the vine and eat it with only salt that you've carried with you for that purpose doesn't mean that you shouldn't do that at least once every year. I am not going to tell you that you have to completely bone a whole bird to make a galantine more than once, but you should make fresh pesto as often as you get the chance. (I myself have successfully completely removed the bones from a chicken on two occasions, but I did not then proceed to make a galantine. For the life of me, I can't remember what I did with those chickens, though I certainly remember removing the bones. I did it mostly as a technical exercise [you're only young once, right?] but I'm sure I must have eaten the chickens.)

Anyway, you don't need me to lecture you. Presumably your mother can do that, and if you don't have one, you can borrow mine: she's got lots of experience. All I mean to say here is that making tapenade the way I make it is something you should do at least once a year. Preferably in the early autumn, I think, but the preparation does not heat up the kitchen as much as many preparations involving the oven do, and it is very good at any time of year.

You should all (where all means those of you who like to cook and/or like black olives) try this.

You'll need:

a baguette, or even better, a slightly wider loaf of similar bread
a quarter cup or so of olive oil
a head or so of garlic
black olives -- Trader Joe's 10 oz. jar of pitted kalamata olives in red wine vinegar works very well

Separate the head of garlic into cloves and peel the cloves. Yes, I know that this is a little bit time consuming, but do it anyway, please.

Slice the loaf of bread into relatively thin (about half an inch thick) slices. Depending on how wide your loaf of bread is, you will likely want to do this on the diagonal. Arrange the slices on a cookie sheet and put them in the oven, which you have preheated to 325. Did I not mention preheating the oven? Well, surely you read the entire recipe before just plunging in. You didn't have a baguette and a jar of Trader Joe's olives just sitting around, did you?

Toast the bread until the top is hard but not brown. Take the pan out of the oven, flip the pieces of bread onto the other side, return them to the oven, and toast until the now-up side is also hard but not brown. Remove the bread from the oven and let it cool a bit.

Take most of the cloves of garlic and put them in a small saucepan with the olive oil. Shake the pan to coat the garlic with the oil. You don't need the cloves to be submerged in oil throughout the cooking. Place the saucepan on low heat. Come to think of it, do this before you slice and toast your bread because you want the garlic to cook for a long time, slowly. (Stop whining about me not getting the steps in the right order. I mean, really, you're doing this every year; have you forgotten already?) You want it to cook until its soft and brown, and that should take a while.

Open the jar of olives and eat one. Aren't they yummy? You can successfully complete this recipe and eat as many as a dozen of the olives. Or, you can put all of the olives into the tapenade. Hurrah for free will!

When the bread has cooled slightly, rub the pieces with raw garlic cloves. To do this, just cut the tip end off of a clove of garlic, hold the other end between your fingers, and rub the cut end across the bread, as if the bread were a small grater. Be generous with the garlic, and coat both sides of the bread. When you finish this step, you need to have at least one clove of uncooked garlic left, and rubbing garlic cloves on partially toasted bread uses them up fairly quickly, so plan accordingly.

Reduce the oven temperature to no more than 300. Brush both sides of each piece of bread lightly with some of the oil that the garlic has been cooking in. Return the bread to the oven and let it toast until it is well browned. Yes, I know it's incredibly crunchy. It's also very good. Hopefully your teeth are up to the task.

Drain off any of the remaining oil from the garlic cloves and reserve it for another use. Drain off most of the red wine vinegar from the jar of olives and add the olives (with a little of the vinegar) to the saucepan with the garlic. Get out your immersion blender and blend the softened garlic and olives to a paste. It doesn't have to be absolutely smooth, but you don't want big chunks of olive in it, either. If the mixture is too dry to blend, you can add a bit more of the vinegar, but you don't want it too wet. If you don't have an immersion blender, improvise, and then buy one the next time you're out shopping.

In spite of all the garlic you've got in there, your mixture will need a little kick. So take the garlic clove that I told you to reserve and chop it up. Then add half a teaspoon or so of salt (yes, in spite of all those olives, you still need some more salt; yes, I know it's salty, but it's better that way), and puree the chopped garlic with your knife. Enjoy this step. Few kitchen tasks are as enjoyable as pureeing garlic with a knife. Add the garlic and salt mixture to the olives along with freshly grated black pepper. Stir. Correct seasoning. If you feel absolutely compelled to add in some chopped fresh cilantro at this step, I do not entirely approve, but I really have no way of stopping you, do I?

Spread a thin (or not so thin) layer of your tapenade onto the toasted bread. Chew carefully, because the bread will break into pieces due to its extreme crispness.

Something else that ought to be on your list and that you really only have to do once (though if you live in the DC area as I do, you will want to go back) is the food enthusiast's equivalent of the pilgrimage to Mecca. After you have stared longingly at the kitchen and watched some of the extremely entertaining footage that's playing on the monitor, venture downstairs to the cafeteria at the National Museum of American History and wonder what Julia would make of it. Not so much, perhaps.


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