"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then rest afterwards."
How I am hoping to truly discover the meaning of this proverb over the course of the next week! After a hectic beginning to 2006, I’m happy to say that I have a few days to myself. So today is a beginning of sorts for me. It’s the beginning of a week of days that I’m hoping to spend in quiet enjoyment of so many of the things that I often miss … that we all often miss … while living our busy lives.
I want to enjoy the spring weather that has finally come to Toronto. I want to enjoy the Easter season and all of the lovely traditions and food the season brings with it. And I especially want to enjoy the moments of stillness, where there are no chores to get to, meetings to run to, and endless errands to get done. There’s just the prospect of the hours that stretch before you, for you to do with them as you please.
As I contemplate the beginning of my mini-holiday, I’ve also been thinking about Easter lunch on Sunday. While my mother usually handles the meal (you’ll read all about it I assure you), I usually fill in for duty in the antipasti and dessert department. Dessert is covered, but the antipasti are up in the air.
Strangely, I always find the antipasto the most difficult part of the meal to prepare. Antipasto is Italian for "before the meal" and while it can be referred to as appetizer, it’s not quite the same thing.
For Italians, the purpose of the antipasto is to wake the mouth up and prepare the stomach for the meal that is about to come. Antipasti (the plural of antipasto) should always be small and provocative, but never overpowering. They should be memorable, but never the only thing you remember about the meal.
The antipasto, you see, is a delicate art.
The best antipasti are usually the simplest. A slice of paper-thin prosciutto with a perfectly ripe fig … fragrant mushrooms, sauteed briefly in butter with a shaving of Parmigiano Reggiano and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar … the perfect late-summer tomato, quartered and touched with a few drops of olive oil alongside the freshest bocconcino. So simple and yet, not as easy as you might think.
You see you can’t cheat with the antipasto; it’s only as good as good as the ingredients you use. A supermarket tomato purchased during the month of April, when tomato season is still a long way off, just won’t cut it. The antipasto is unforgiving.
So as I find myself facing the beginning of my mini-holiday and contemplating the beginning of Easter lunch, I turned to Lori Longbotham’s Lemon Zest, the Flavour of the Month for April 2006, and I knew exactly which recipe to try: Lemon and Fig Tapenade.
Dolloped onto a piece of bread covered with a slice of mild goat cheese, I had a feeling that this might just be the right antipasto. I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed. The tapenade, which included the unusual addition of dried Black Mission figs, was sweet, salty and briny (thanks to the olives) all at the same time. But underneath those flavours, was the steadying presence of lemon, both in the form of lemon zest and the Lemon Oil that I had at the ready. Paired with a slightly tangy, soft goat cheese, it was a bite to awaken the senses. And as with all really good antipasti, it was simple to make. I do believe I’ve found my antipasto for Easter lunch!
And so now that I have spent some doing nothing but thinking about how to begin enjoying both a few days off and the pleasure of a meal to come, I shall do as the Spanish do and rest.
Lemon and Fig Tapenade
Adapted from Lemon Zest by Lori Longbotham.
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 dried Black Mission figs, stems discarded, quartered
2 anchovy fillets
1 cup brine-cured black olives, pitted (I used Kalamata olives.)
1 tablespoon drained capers
3 tablespoons Lemon Oil or olive oil
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons brandy
a pinch of freshly-ground pepper
Turn on the food processor and add the garlic cloves to the bowl with the motor running. Once the garlic is finely chopped, drop in the figs and anchovies. Continue to process until finely chopped.
Add the olives and capers and again process until finely chopped.
Transfer the mixture to a bowl or a container with a lid. Add the Lemon Oil or olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, brandy and pepper. Mix well and taste. Adjust the seasonings to suit your tastes.
Either serve the tapenade immediately, or refrigerate in a covered container. Bring the tapenade to room temperature before serving.
Note: This makes about 1 cup of tapenade. Instead of brandy, you can use Cognac. Lori suggests serving the tapenade with a mild goat cheese (which is what I did). Don’t forget to add lots of crusty bread!