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~Gruyère & Olive-Tapenade French-Bread Appetizers~

IMG_6883 2Olive cheese bread was a trendy hot appetizer served with drinks at laid-back TGIF and fancy-schmancy holiday cocktail parties throughout the 1980's.  For the obvious reason, the olives, they were particularly popular with martini drinkers.  That said, olive cheese bread was just one of many spin-off recipes created by home cooks who were inspired by the introduction of the remarkably-tasty, frozen, store-bought, Stouffer's* French bread pizza into their lives.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3a0fcc4200d*Note:  Making pizza on French bread was made famous in the 1960's by Bob Petrillose, the founder of the legendary Hot Truck on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. His experiment not only spread like wildfire, it was eventually licensed to Stouffer's in the 1970's. Shortly after that, it was marketed in grocery stores nationwide and quickly made its way into home kitchens like mine, where it remained as a go-to after-school or late-night snack for my family until Dominos started delivering.

The basic 1980's recipe for olive-cheese bread appetizers:

Recipes for olive-cheese bread appetizers were/are all about the same.  Simply split a 12-ounce French baguette in two, coarse-chop or slice 25-30 well-drained black olives and 25-30 pimiento-stuffed green olives, then stir them into a mixture of softened salted butter (1 stick), mayonnaise (1/2 cup), garlic and onion powder (1 teaspoon each), and, shredded cheddar-Jack cheese (3 cups).  Spread the mixture atop the bread and bake at 325º until bread is crisp and cheese is melted.  Slice each half-loaf into 12-16 appetizer-size pieces and serve hot.  

6a0120a8551282970b022ad398c2fd200dA tip from Mel about the bread:  My favorite bread to use for pizza-bread and pizza-bread-type snacks (crostini too), is the French batard. The batard, first kin to the baguette, weighs about 8-ounces, is shorter, plumper, and, slightly denser than Italian loaves (like ciabatta), so, it's the best foil for all sorts of toppings. It's slight lack of airiness means the end result slices up nicer, which makes for a pretty presentation too. Use whatever shape you like, as long as it is rustic and firm textured.

My updated recipe for Olive-Cheese Bread Appetizers:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4abcb76200bWhen I'm making olive cheese bread nowadays, I raise the bar and make tapenade with a combination of two Greek-style olives:  briny black kalamata and garlic-stuffed green.  When it comes to tapenade, higher-quality fruit makes a difference, and, while tapenade is traditionally only made from black olives (kalamata or niçoise), I like the astringency that garlic-stuffed green olives bring to this nosh. Mine's nicely-seasoned with dried herbs de Provence and fresh thyme too, which amps-up the flavor even more.  It only takes 5-10 minutes to make tapenade, but, I make it in the AM, to give the flavors time to marry until it's time to make the appetizers for cocktail hour.  As for the cheese, nothing but shredded Gruyère goes into my upscale appetizers.

To make my upscale version of this retro appetizer:

IMG_68442, 8-9-ounce, 12" long French batards, sliced in half lengthwise.  (Note:  When baked and sliced, each half-loaf will yield 8, 3-4 bite snacks, for a total of 32-appetizers.)

6  ounces olive tapenade, preferable homemade, or high-quality store-bought (about 1 cup)

8  ounces grated Gruyère cheese (about 3 cups)

1/2  cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (1 stick)

1/2  cup mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon each garlic and onion powder (Note:  I do not use nor do I recommend using fresh garlic or onion in recipes such as this because once put in the oven, these snack breads do not bake at a high enough temperature for a long enough time to cook either product to a softened, mellow-tasting state, rendering it raw-ish and harsh-tasting in the finished product.)

1/4  cup thin-sliced scallion or scallion tops, for garnish

IMG_6846 IMG_6846 IMG_6846 IMG_6846 IMG_6846~Step 1.  In a medium-large bowl, using a large spoon, place and thoroughly stir together the softened butter, mayonnaise, garlic and onion powder.  Stir in the tapenade, followed by the shredded cheese.  Using the spoon, roughly divide the mixture into four equal parts -- this does not have to be an exact measurement, just a relatively close call.

IMG_6866 IMG_6866~ Step 2.  Using a serrated bread knife, split each batard horizontally, into two halves, placing the half-loaves onto one large 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" pan, or two smaller 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pans (I prefer the smaller pans, so I can slice and serve the appetizers piping hot right out of the oven).  Using the spoon, dollop and spread one-quarter of the tapenade/cheese mixture atop each half-loaf, mounding it slightly towards the center.

IMG_6876 IMG_6876~ Step 3.  Bake all at once (on one pan) or one-at-a time (one two separate pans) on center rack of preheated 325º oven 20-25 minutes until cheese is melted and bread is golden around the edges and on the bottom.  Remove from oven.  

Slice & serve immediately garnished w/scallion tops:

IMG_6887 2Cheesy, nicely seasoned & not too salty, bring on the cocktails: 

IMG_6919Cheese & Olive-Tapenade Snack-Bread Appetizers:  Recipe yields 4 French batard half-loaves/8 appetizers each half-loaf/32 total appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held box grater; large spoon; serrated bread knife;  1, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan or 2, 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pans; parchment paper

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4d1d7bb200dCook's Note:  For a variation on the the same French bread pizza theme, keeping a Tex-Mex cocktail party menu in mind this time, try my recipe for ~ Bacon & Jalapeno-Cheddar French Bread Snacks ~. Eat, drink and be please be merry!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)


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