TAPENADE and cauliflower-Travelling in the South West of France

The restaurant is recommended in Stephanie Alexander’s Cooking & Travelling in the South-West France.  I stayed with my partner and two friends in the same converted barn – La Vieille Grange in Mercadiol , a small hamlet in the South West of France.

And all this to tell you about olive Tapenade which I love to eat with steamed cauliflower.

Tapenade made from black olives, mustard, anchovies, capers (some use brandy) comes from Languedoc, further south than the Lot, but the olive tapenade I prefer is from Provence. It is fresh and light and very summery. In the Occitan region in the south of France (Occitan –romance language spoken in southern France), the word for capers is tapéno, hence the name for this popular spread.

I present it with bread but sometimes I accompany it with some vegetable crudities. Raw or steamed cauliflower flowerets are a pleasant addition.

But Tapenade also comes in very handy as a sauce or condiment for simply cooked fish or vegetables, especially steamed cauliflower.

Tapenade is a pesto and traditionally made with a mortar and pestle. I cut my herbs by hand (otherwise they can taste grassy) and then add them to the olives that I have chopped in the food processor.

I also need to give credit to y friend Liz who introduced me to Tapenade as made in Provence, many years ago.

I do not weigh/measure ingredients when I make this but the following works.

pitted olives, 2 cups (I use Kalamata because I like their strong taste)
capers, 2 tablespoons
garlic, 2 cloves crushed
extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup
lemon juice, 1 lemon
freshly ground pepper, to taste
fresh herbs, cut by hand, 1 cup of each: Italian parsley, thyme, basil (sometimes, I have added marjoram or fresh oregano and even young rosemary)
Place olives crushed garlic in a food processor and chop to a medium grind (I do not like it too smooth).
Cut all the herbs and add them to the olives, add oil, lemon juice and pepper.
Blend again for 5 seconds to mix the ingredients.

Place the tapenade in a sterile jar and cover it with a thin layer of olive oil – keep it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

It comes in very handy!!

River Ouysse
Bridge destroyed in 1966 (can see this from restaurant)


SALADE COMPOSÉE (A French mixed salad)

salad compose

The French seem to enjoy salade composée either as an entrée as a light meal. I know I am stereopyping and I hate it when others discuss food preferred by the Italians or the Sicilians, so I will begin again.

When I was in Paris in September and while in the South West of France I ate my way through many servings of salade composée. This refers to a salad in which an assortment of ingredients with a balance of colours, flavours and textures arranged aesthetically on a plate and drizzled with a tasty vinaigrette. It is likely to be composed of a variety of seasonal fresh and cooked vegetables and one or a combination of meats, fish, eggs, nuts or cheese.

In the history of French cuisine, I know that presenting salads is fairly recent, but everywhere I went there seemed to be salade composée.


I stayed with my partner and two friends in La Vieille Grange in Mercadiol (a small hamlet) in the South West of France. It is the same restored barn that Stephanie Alexander stayed (with Maggie Beer and Colin her husband) when she researched material for her book Cooking & Travelling in the South-West France.


The cooking of South West of France is rooted in historical tradition, seasonal produce and nothing is wasted. Apart from a good selection of salad leaves there were other vegetables: potatoes and tiny green beans. Some had cured pork products as well, and of course many had walnuts. So important was the vinaigrette, perhaps made with a combination of walnut oil, olive oil and wine vinegar.

In that location of France I sampled much of the local food and there were plenty of duck’s gizzards, but these were often mixed with other duck meat: pan-fried breasts, smoked or air dried breasts, stuffed necks, confit, terrines, fois products and whole livers. Pan-fried duck livers are so good when cooked properly. (I soak the whole, cleaned livers in milk for about four hours before frying them in a little duck fat, then deglaze them with a little Armagnac, wine or vinegar and then add them and any caremelised juices from the pan to the vinaigrette).


I was very fortunate to attend a class at Le Cordon Bleu Academie D’Art Culinaire in Paris and even there, Le Chef cooked Salade de Pigeon Landase, vinaigrette de son jus as an entrée. The main component was squab breast cooked rare in goose fat. The rest of the squab was braised with shallots, carrots and bouquet garni and then drained. The meat was presented on lambs lettuce, watercress, raw mushrooms and toasted pine nuts. The vinaigrette was the squab jus mixed with red wine vinegar, hazelnut oil and a little mustard. We were presented with what Le Chef cooked, and it was superb.

I always add seasonal vegetables to my salade composée. Because it is spring, I add vegetables such as broad beans, asparagus, peas, zucchini. I also add fresh herbs and a mixture of leaves, sweet, bitter and pungent (eg watercress, rocket, lambs lettuce).

Eating a salad (such as a salade composée) at the start to a meal would be very unusual in Sicily, but they may eat a caponata on its own accompanied by some very good bread.


The converted barn La Vieille Grange in Mercadiol

I have been overseas for four weeks. Australia is indistinct, and I have eaten far too much in Sicily and France.

These are photos of the converted barn La Vieille Grange where I stayed with my partner and two friends in Mercadiol (a small hamlet) in the South West of France. It is the same restored barn that Stephanie Alexander stayed (with Maggie Beer and Colin her husband) when she researched material for her book Cooking & Travelling in South-West France. Together with our two friends, we too did a lot of cooking in this house – definitely  inspired by the local produce.

I sampled much of the local food and my best eating experience was at Le Pont de L’Oussey, a restaurant mentioned in Stephanie’s book.

Prior to this I was in Paris and through a friend I was privileged to be able to attend a session at Le Cordon Bleu, Academie De Paris.

choc flowers franceDSC_0423

Before that I spent time in Palermo and Castellammare del Golfo in Sicily. I had the pleasure of meeting Mary Taylor Simeti and her charming husband; Mary is the writer I consider to be one of the best authorities on Sicilian cuisine.

Francesco simeti DSC_0081

I saw this installation by  Francesco Simeti  at an exhibition in Palermo in the Regional Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Palazzo Belmonte Riso).

As you can see I have plenty to write about in my blog and will try to do this in the next following weeks.

Thank you, to those of you who through my blog expressed sympathy about having my laptop stolen in Paris and missing my blogs. Most of the Sicilian photos of Sicilian food that I had downloaded on my laptop are lost, but I have plenty of photos from the many frequent trips to Sicily that I can use.