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.

Slather it on homemade roast beef sandwiches. Dollop a little on top of a steaming bowl of tomato soup.

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.

Tapenade at The Hungry Mouse

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. Black Olive Tapenade at The Hungry Mouse

Toss them into the bowl of your food processor along with the anchovy filets.

Black Olive Tapenade at The Hungry Mouse

Add the capers.

Black Olive Tapenade at The Hungry Mouse

And the thyme, garlic, and black pepper.

Black Olive Tapenade at The Hungry Mouse

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.

Black Olive Tapenade at The Hungry Mouse

You’re aiming for a coarse chop, like this:

Black Olive Tapenade at The Hungry Mouse

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.

Black Olive Tapenade at The Hungry Mouse

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.).

Black Olive Tapenade at The Hungry Mouse

Your tapenade will keep for about a week in the fridge.

Black Olive Tapenade at The Hungry Mouse

Serve and enjoy!

Tapenade at The Hungry Mouse

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Jessie Cross is a cookbook author and creator of The Hungry Mouse, a monster online food blog w/500+ recipes. When she's not shopping for cheese or baking pies, Jessie serves as an Associate Creative Director at PARTNERS+simons, a boutique ad agency in Boston. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and two small, fluffy wolves.


  1. I love tapenade on burgers, with spinach and brie. It’s wonderful on salmon too. Thinned out and mixed to a vinaigrette consistency, it’s amazing over a caprese style salad. Oh man, maybe I need to make some for myself. I suddenly have a hankerin’…….

  2. I make something like this and serve it over fresh grilled tuna steaks. It’s out of this world. I add toasted pine nuts to mine. Serve with a crusty french bread so you can slather the tapenade on that as well. A nice Chardonnay and salad go well with it.