Monday, September 04, 2006

Aperitif: Pernod and Tapenade

Pernod with water, fig and walnut tapenade and extras

Oh, the civilized world. In America, we have "Happy Hour"--aka cheap and copious high-alcohol drinks, high-fat foods, and high-likelihood of drunken debauchery. In France? There they have aperitifs--low-alcohol, appetite-piquing drinks with small snacks, designed as a social prelude to the meal, not a replacement.**

Earlier this summer I picked up the book Aperitif: Recipes for Simple Pleasures in the French Style by Georgeanne Brennan, a laudatory and useful guide to this tradition. So far, the drinks section has held my attention and I plan to try my hand at some vins maison later this fall. But first, I'm learning to love pastis, anise-flavored alcohol, created through the maceration of herbs and spices (Pernod is not technically pastis due to its distillation, but I didn't realize that when I bought it).

Pastis is basically the wormwood-free version of absinthe, the scourge of early 20th century teetolaters. Hence, no Toulouse Lautrec-type hallucinations, but the flavor is similar. Pastis is usually served with water, at a ratio of 5 (water) to 1 (pastis). As a martini-swilling American, the, well, watery-ness takes a bit of getting used to, but with some snacks, it's a pleasant way to begin the evening.

The book recommends a dish of small green olives with your pastis, but the only olives I had were in some leftover walnut and fig tapenade. This has been an easy favorite of mine for ages--a food processor and quality ingredients are all you need. Plus some goat cheese and bread to serve it on!

Walnut and Fig Tapenade
Based on this recipe from Bon Appetit, which I use when feeling less lazy

Can of black olives, drained
1/2-3/4 c. of chopped walnuts
1 c. dried figs, roughly chopped (Trader Joe's has 'em)
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 tbsp. olive oil

Whir the first 5 ingredients in your food processor. Taste and adjust accordingly, adding more of any ingredient you wish. With the processor running, add olive oil in a steady stream through the open top thingy. When tapenade reaches your preferred consistency, stop, even if it's before 3 full tablespoons. Remove from processor to serving dish, and spread on baguette rounds that're already spread with some goat cheese.

**don't get me wrong--I've enjoyed plenty of happy hours in my day and have the pictures (unfortunately!) to prove it.


connie said...

what a snazzy way to start an evening! i love tapenade too. Wow, i have an urge to have a little aperitif party now... all i need is a few more friends in the area :(

i'll keep my eyes open for that book, and if you make anything else from it please post!

KT said...

That book does sound fabulous ... just the type of thing I like to make. I'm not a super-big fan of pastis, but I loooove tapenade or anything olive-y. In fact, I think a little kalamata-garlic tapenade is going to be part of my dinner tonight.

jules said...

hey eirn
thanks for dropping by my site
lovely looking tapenade..I actually have a bottle of pastis in the cupboard that I had forgotten about..yum..thanks for reminding me

Erin S. said...

KT--pastis is growing on me. I had an amazing pastis martini at Cesar, a tapas bar in Berkeley, but I haven't been able to replicate it at home. I need to ask next time I'm there.

Connie--I will definitely post--like I said, the vins maison are intriguing and may make a good project for homemade xmas gifts.

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