Figs and Olives: A Delightful Surprise

A few weeks ago, I went to an after-work picnicky thing to meet some of Mister MA’s new colleagues, and unlike most office-sponsored gatherings, the food was memorable – in a good way.

Fig tapenade. (Kim O'Donnel).

While Mister MA fetched the drinks, I perused the colorful array of mostly meatless dips and spreads, but the thing that caught my eye was the fig tapenade. A first for me, I was intrigued, imagining how figs and olives would taste and feel in one unified bite. It would take just one little spoonful to hook me, well, forever. Where have you been all my life, olives and figs, baby? What a groovy combination, a yin-yang of sweet and savory, smooth and chunky, mellow and pungent. While licking my fingers, I decided that I must figure out how to recreate this extraordinary flavor sensation and share the figgy love.

A few Googlish searches later, I found a kindred spirit in Paris-based blogger and cookbook writer David Lebovitz, who had the goods on my newly beloved spread. An original creation of the Jimtown Store, a gourmet/country store in Sonoma wine country, the recipe details are below. Read’em and then scurry to the store; life is too short to be without fig tapenade.

Today is chat day; join me at 1 ET for this week’s What’s Cooking.

Jimtown Store’s Fig and Black Olive Tapenade

½ cup dried Black Mission figs, stemmed and halved
¾ cup water
1 cup black olives (Nicoise, Lyon or Greek), rinsed and pitted
1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice (about ½ lemon)
2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
1 small garlic cloved, peeled
½ tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
¼-1/2 cup olive oil (I found ¼ cup just enough)
Salt and pepper, if necessary


In a medium-sized saucepan, simmer the figs in the water for about 30 minutes, until very tender. Drain, reserving a few tablespoons of the liquid.

If the bowl of a food processor, combine pitted olives, drained figs, lemon juice, mustard, garlic, capers, and fresh rosemary, using the “pulse” function until you have a thick paste. Drizzle in olive oil until you've achieved a chunky-smooth paste. If necessary, use fig liquid to thin out the tapenade.

Serve with your favorite crackers, or in between two pieces of bread for a zinger sandwich spread. Could zest up a piece of grilled fish or chicken, too.

Can be made one or two or days in advance, which allows the flavors to intensify.
Makes about 1 cup.

By Kim ODonnel |  September 30, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Entertaining , Vegetarian/Vegan
Previous: Meatless Monday: Warming Up to Winter Squash | Next: Chat Leftovers: Heart-Healthy Lunch, Veggie Supper Sides


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In today's chat, Kim mentioned a recipe for apple pie w/ pine nuts and rosemary. Does anyone have a link to that recipe?

Posted by: THS | September 30, 2008 2:36 PM

Tom Douglas' Lola has an assortment of spreads served with pita as an appetizer option--one of the spreads is kalamatas & figs. While it is lovely, the feta is my favorite (though my husband is partial to the roasted red pepper).

Posted by: Jessica | September 30, 2008 3:19 PM

Thanks for all the butternut squash ideas from the chat! I have never eaten it before and was curious as to how to use it!

Posted by: merluvs2cook | September 30, 2008 3:41 PM

Kim, this tapenade sounds so intriguing that I went shopping for the ingredients right after work. The figs are on the stove as I type. I'll report back later with results.

You cost me a lot of money at the market, lady. ;-)

Posted by: GAFF | September 30, 2008 5:48 PM

Kim, about a year ago I discovered your blog and learned about the Culinary Corps. I was really jazzed about that until I learned you had to be a professional or trained chef. I realized I wouldn't be able to participate. Then a couple weeks later I learned about a part-time chef's training program that fit my work schedule so I jumped into school.
We have our final cooking test next Tuesday; we'll get the ingredients when we walk into the kitchen. Assuming we'll have squash, I spent the weekend coming up with a braised squash in my head. So reading your post yesterday was incredibly timely. But today I know the universe is really speaking. My 9 classmates and I are doing our graduation dinner Friday night; the menu is vegetarian French. One group has come up with a take on a mini-pissaladiere --- complete with a fig/black olive tapenade!
I guess you could say we've come full circle. Thank you so much for the inspiration!!

Posted by: conniecooks | September 30, 2008 8:29 PM

OK, here's my take on the fig/olive.

It's still chilling, but from taste tests it's fairly incredible. I did double the garlic, but I do that with most recipes. Not quite the oomph I was hoping for, but that may be because I couldn't find really good olives at two markets. I'm wondering how a really nice green olive might do, with even more garlic.

This was so much like making Kim's hummus recipe that I'm wondering what other unlikely ingredients I might try to blend together.

One thing I did learn; I doubled the recipe (as it turns out, 2 cans of black olives and one pouch of Sun-Maid figs is nearly exactly double the recipe ratio). My tiny 2 cup food processor So I'm going to have to finally buy a full size FP.

Posted by: GAFF | September 30, 2008 8:44 PM

Hello THS: The recipe you are looking for is here:

Enjoy! This one is a goodie.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | September 30, 2008 11:31 PM

Is there any advantage in using fresh figs?

Posted by: whasym | October 1, 2008 9:18 AM

Whasym: Fresh figs in season right now, which is why some folks were asking. I mentioned in yesterday's chat that I think you'd need to do something to release their natural sugars, like roasting them for a few minutes.
GAFF: You are too funny.
Conniewhocooks: Congratulations! What a terrific accomplishment. Please keep us posted of your adventures.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | October 1, 2008 10:57 AM

Fresh fig season was about two months ago in my area. But I'm glad to see it works well with dried figs. Gotta try it.

Posted by: Dave | October 1, 2008 3:35 PM

Hi Kim! I'm friends with Jon and Kate and wanted to drop in and say hello.

I make a similar dish and I love it for after work functions, etc. The big boon is that you can make it in advance and voila! Look like a superstar with a fantastic appetizer. The recipe I use, I do a mix of kalamata and oil cured olives and serve it with a bit of goat cheese and a slice of kumquat. Delish! Also, this is excellent smeared on lavash with bits of goat cheese and thinly sliced apples, baked in the oven until the lavash is crisp. I've made a quick meal out of this more times than I can count!

Glad to hear you're back in the Pacific Northwest and hope our paths cross one day soon....

Posted by: Traca | October 2, 2008 9:59 PM

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