Vegetarian Tapenade from Brantes:
This recipe for tapenade comes with a story. But, best of all it is simple, keeps well in the fridge, can be made with ingredients you probably have in your store cupboard already and tastes delicious
High up on hilly slopes near Mont Ventoux, there’s one of those idyllic medieval villages you can find scattered through the countryside of France. First cited in 1163 as Brantule, the village still had 451 inhabitants by 1851. But, the population gradually declined and the village, like so many rural communities, fell into disrepair. Now, though, the winding lanes and passageways seem perfectly maintained, there’s a neat car park at the bottom of the village and most of the houses have been renovated. In fact, the village was only restored in the late 20th century and now acts as a haven for craftsmen and women and a focal point for walkers. It is also home to a group of women who run the unique cookery school, Les Aventurières du Goût, which I was lucky enough to visit on my recent trip to France.
Les Aventurières du Goût offer the opportunity to learn a little about the edible plants that grow on the slopes of the hills in this area, to spend time with them foraging and collecting flowers and plants and then to use what has been collected to create a delicious and visually stunning meal to share. It’s a gentle and relaxing way to get a little fresh air, learn a bit about the properties of some of the wild herbs and flowers of the region and then to eat a healthy meal.
So what did we find on our ramble through the village? Some plants which I knew already but would never have tried to eat, some which I’ve always meant to try and some I’d never come across in their wild state. Wild spinach, marigold flowers, hollyhocks, nasturtiums, nettles, wild thyme, and the flower we call mallow, but which in France is known as ‘mauve’
Everything we foraged was used to make lunch. Sometimes to add flavour, sometimes just to provide colour. I particularly liked the use of mallow to garnish apricots stuffed with goats cheese with pink peppercorns and mint. What would have been a very ordinary looking dish was transformed by the pretty purple flowers. And, they are common enough, even in London, that you can expect to see a flurry of London-Unattached recipes dressed with purple mallow.
The vegetarian tapenade recipe was one of the dishes I made that afternoon, and it’s the one which I will almost certainly keep making at home. It’s VERY easy to do. Leaving out the anchovies also improves the dish by making it a little less salty and of course it is suitable for vegetarian and vegans too. Using a particular type of olive – here, black Nyons olives – and olive oil from the area, is an important element in making something that tastes exactly like the version I made in Brantes. But, any good black olive will work – although I’d recommend buying them with stones and pitting them yourself, because once the stone is removed the brine seems to dilute the flavour.
In Brantes with Les Aventurières du Goût we served the tapenade on courgette ‘bruschetta’ – a very simple idea that made a pretty dish. Garnished with marigold petals and nasturtiums it looked as if it had come straight out of a food magazine.
As part of a healthy, vegetarian, gluten free feast with les Aventurières du Goût, it was quite delicious.
At home in London, I made up my tapenade mixture and then decided it looked too good to wait till I’d been out foraging for flowers. So mine was served with a tomato salsa and a few sprigs of basil.
If you would like to have a go yourself, Les Aventurières du Goût run regular cookery and foraging events in Brantes and can also put on bespoke events for small groups.
I travelled from London to the Rhone valley with SNCF using TGV and Eurostar. Fares from London to Valence start at £111 return and from London to Avignon from £121 return.
For more about the trip, this post about Terroir in the Rhone Valley gives a summary of what we covered