Southern France, meet the American South, or at least the South I know where summer evenings smell of heat, humidity, freshly-mown grass…and gin. When I was little, the gin scent came from the gin-and-tonics my aunts, uncles, and parents drank from cold, sweating, thick-glassed tumblers on the screened porch. Nowadays my summertime gin associations are tied to the perfect martinis shaken up by Dana and Bill, who make the drinks so well you never want anything else if they’re mixing some. Their martinis now bring olives into the summer sensory equation—big, fat, green olives that look and taste more Mediterranean than mediocre cocktail lounge.
Which brings me to olives and the South of France—Nice, specifically, where I was handed my first taste of tapenade from an olive stand at the market in the old city. The air around the stand was thick with brine, oil, garlic, and herbs warmed by the late morning sun, and the tapenade (an olive spread with capers, garlic, anchovies, and lemon) was the essence of everything there is to love about olives.
Taste tapenade like that once, and you love it forever, regardless of all the so-so versions you have to eat from little, overpriced jars of the stuff. Taste tapenade like that once, and you vow to make your own whenever you can because it’s just so delicious, and just so easy.
When I last opened a jar of olives to make tapenade, my mind went skipping from anchovies and garlic to gin and martinis…and a ‘martini’ tapenade dressed up with crushed juniper (the spice used to flavor gin). I love the way it turned out so much that I now want to put juniper in everything—and I’m stocking up on green olives for the rest of the summer. Here’s my basic green tapenade recipe—jazzed up with juniper and a touch of vermouth. They’re a fun addition, but not necessary; you can also make the tapenade without and vermouth and it will be just as delish.
‘Gin Martini’ Green Olive Tapenade
1 tsp. whole juniper berries
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 anchovy fillets, optional
6 oz. (180 g.) pitted green olives (about 1 ¼ cups drained)
2 Tbs. drained capers
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1 tsp. dry vermouth, optional
Grind the juniper berries in a spice grinder or coffee grinder, or crush with a mortar and pestle. Transfer juniper powder to a mini-food processor, and process with the garlic and anchovy fillets (if using) until finely chopped. Add the olives, capers, olive oil, and lemon juice, and process until desired consistency is obtained—chunky or smooth—adding more olive oil, if necessary.) Alternately, you can mash together all the ingredients in a mortar and pestle, which takes a little more elbow grease, but is easier to clean.) Transfer to a bowl, and stir in the vermouth (if using).
Serve the tapenade with small baguette rounds or crackers. Makes 1 cup