Tapenade is seriously savory, salty business. Think of it as a kind of pate made with black olives—with some anchovies, capers, and olive oil thrown in for good measure. Some recipes for this Provencal spread include lemon juice. Some are a extra pungent from the addition of a little tuna and mustard powder.
Capers (along with olives) are one of the common ingredients across most tapenade recipes.
Capers are actually pickled flower buds and come in two different basic varieties at the store: nonpareil (small) and caperberries (larger, about the size of an olive). Buy the nonpareils for this recipe. Capers are usually sold in a jar of brine, but you can sometimes find them packed in salt. For salt packed, give them a quick rinse before using.
Find capers in the same aisle as olives in most American supermarkets.
Many uses for tapenade
So, I’m one of those who frequently grazes on wine and cheese for dinner, so this stuff is right up my alley. It’s great smeared on crackers that you’ve topped with a little cheese.
You can use the thick black paste as a dip for fresh veggies. Whisk it with olive oil for a flavorful salad dressing or toss a few spoonfuls with hot pasta for an impromptu sauce.
I also really like to mash a few spoonfuls into butter, then roll it into a log for a delicious compound butter. Pop it in the fridge ’til hard, then whack off thick rounds to garnish freshly grilled meats and seafood.
Basically, make it. Taste it. Go to town.
There are a zillion variations on the recipe out there. This is how I make mine.
Or at least, this is what I did the last time I made it, tossing in a little thyme and a shot or so of cognac. It never comes out quite the same, but that never really matters. It’s forgiving and imprecise and fast—like most of my favorite recipes.
Oh, and don’t limit yourself to just black olives. Use your favorite green olives, or a mix of green and black. Kalamata olives are probably my favorite for this. David Lebovitz has an artichoke tapenade that looks delicious. You get the picture.
Traditional tapenade from Provence is pounded out by hand with a mortar and pestle. You can do that. A food processor works almost as well.
Wait, anchovies? Is it fishy?
In this recipe, the anchovies do what they do best—melt into the spread and bolster the depth of flavor of the other ingredients. In other words, no, it’s not fishy.
Like capers, you’ll find anchovies two ways at the market: packed in oil, or packed in salt. (I tend to avoid the ones in salt, since you have to bone them and soak them in milk or water, both of which are kind of a pain.) I prefer the kind in oil, because all you have to do is drain them.
12 oz. black olives, pitted
4 anchovy filets
3 Tbls. capers
2 cloves garlic
1 Tbls. fresh thyme
freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
drizzle of cognac
kosher salt (very optional…taste your tapenade before you sprinkle any in)
Makes about 2 1/2 cups
Assemble and chop your tapenade
Grab your olives.
Toss them into the bowl of your food processor along with the anchovy filets.
Add the capers.
And the thyme, garlic, and black pepper.
Cap your food processor and process on high for a minute or two, stopping to scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula if you see it getting stuck.
You’re aiming for a coarse chop, like this:
Next, drizzle in the olive oil, with the machine running. Last but not least, drizzle in the cognac and give it a quick whirl to incorporate.
You’ll wind up with a thick paste. Have a nibble, and correct the seasoning to your taste (toss in a little salt, or more pepper, or a squirt of lemon juice, etc.).
Your tapenade will keep for about a week in the fridge.
Serve and enjoy!