Tapenades

  • Green Olive & Basil Tapenade Green Olive & Basil Tapenade
  • Sun-Dried Tomato Tapenade Sun-Dried Tomato Tapenade
  • Black Olive Tapenade Black Olive Tapenade
  • Tapenades

Tapenades

An intensely flavored relish-like purée of olives and olive oil, plus various seasonings, tapenade is usually served as a spread on bread. Its origins are in Provence, that exquisite region of southern France that abuts the Mediterranean Sea, stretching west from Nice to Arles, where some of the world's most flavorful olives are grown. Its name comes from the Provençal word for capers, tapenas, a common ingredient in tapenade.

Classic tapenade is made with a short list of acutely Provençal ingredients: oil-cured black olives, capers, anchovies, and olive oil. Everything is put into a blender or food processor and mixed into an oily paste. Some will add garlic but the purist argues against that because the raw garlic will overpower the olives.

But for those of us who aren't always so classic with our cooking, tapenade can take on the versatility of pesto, which needn't only be made with basil, pine nuts, and Parmesan. Likewise a tapenade can be made with green olives, sun-dried tomatoes, or even cooked asparagus, the garlic can be added, the anchovies left out, and in some very traditional Provence homes tapenade is even made with canned tuna and butter.

Making Tapenade

Regardless what kind you make, remember that nearly all the ingredients are raw and so the flavor and quality of everything you add makes a very big difference. So if you make green or black olive tapenade, taste the olives first because your final result will only be as good as what you start with. Avoid canned olives at all cost, especially those disgusting canned black olives that taste like they've been brined in gasoline. Many jarred olives can be very good quality, but again, taste them before turning them into tapenade.

And if you buy your olives already pitted, please do not trust that every pit has been removed. I've yet to buy a pound of "pitted" olives and not found an errant pit hiding among them. Unless you're trying to send business to your dentist or are willing to break your Cuisinart blade, check every one of the olives to make sure the pits are truly gone.

I use the little nonpareil capers that come jarred in brine and rinse them first. I love the precious capers that are packed in salt, but they are more costly and frankly, by the time you add the capers to the tapenade, you'll lose any flavor advantage. Similarly for the anchovies, I buy either Roland or Recca, packed in olive oil, and drain them first; salt-packed anchovies are wonderful and if you have them by all means use them, but I don't use anchovies often enough in my cooking to make the large cans of salted anchovies a good buy.

Since many of tapenade's ingredients are very salty -- the olives, the capers, the anchovies -- you'll never need to add salt to the mix. But freshly ground black pepper, finely ground cayenne, and fresh herbs like thyme, can add important flavor.

For a non-traditional tapenade, we found a really appealing one from David Lebovitz who credits Smitten Kitchen who in turn credits Mario Batali for the recipe. So in what seems to be a journey from an Italian to a New York to a Paris kitchen, below is a link to a tapenade recipe made with green olives and canned artichoke hearts.

In her superb book, At Home in Provence. Recipes Inspired by Her Farmhouse in France, author and teacher Patricia Wells offers a recipe for tuna tapenade. She uses her food processor to make a coarse paste with green olives. Here is my version, which reduces the amount of lemon Ms. Wells prefers:

1 can (6 1/2 ounces) tuna packed in olive oil, drained and flaked with a fork
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup pitted green olives, rinsed and completely drained
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (about that from 1 small lemon)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves

Combine in a blender or food processor and pulse until just blended. Taste and adjust the seasoning and amount of lemon juice. Transfer to a serving bowl to be a spread on bread or a crudité dip. This tapenade can be stored, refrigerated, for up to 3 days but bring it back to room temperature before serving.

For versions that are more traditional, here are three simple tapenades that can each be made entirely from your pantry.

Green Olive Tapenade

1 heaping cup pitted green olives (about 1/2 pound), rinsed and drained of any liquid
1 tablespoon small capers, drained, rinsed in cool water, and squeezed dry with a paper towel
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Black pepper

Place the olives, capers and minced basil leaves in a food processor or blender.
Purée and while the machine is running, add the olive oil so that everything combines into a smooth paste.
Taste and season with several grinds of black pepper.

Serve at room temperature. Tapenade can be stored, refrigerated, for up to a week.

Black Olive Tapenade

There is some dispute as to whether black olive tapenade should be made with oil-cured or brined olives. Most olives from Provence are oil-cured but many recipes call for brined ones such as Kalamata olives; since this tapenade is all about the olives, just use the best flavored ones you can find. I use anchovies that were canned in olive oil but you can also use ones packed in salt -- just rinse and dry them first.

1 cup pitted oil cured or brined black olives, drained of any liquid
2 anchovy fillets
1 tablespoon capers, drained, rinsed in cool water, and squeezed dry with a paper towel
Small pinch of cayenne
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme, leaves only
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Place the olives, anchovy fillets, capers, cayenne, lemon zest, lemon juice, and thyme into a food processor or blender.
Purée and with the machine still running, add the olive oil so that everything combines into a smooth paste.

Serve at room temperature. Tapenade can be stored, refrigerated, for up to a week.

Sun-Dried Tomato Tapenade

1 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained of their oil but still soft, and packed into the measuring cup
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper or cayenne pepper

Place the tomatoes in a food processor or blender.
Purée and while the machine is running, add the olive oil so that the tomatoes become finely chopped and mixed with the oil to form an oily paste.
Taste and season with several grinds of black pepper or a tiny amount of cayenne.

Store refrigerated for up to a week.

Cooking With Tapenade

Besides its appeal as a simple to make and big flavored spread, tapenade is a versatile ingredient, especially the kind made from olives.

As an hors d'oeuvres as a topping on slices of baguette or on sautéed rounds of polenta, as suggested by Sara Moulton in her recent book, Everyday Family Dinners. Buy a log of cooked polenta and cut it into 1/2-inch slices and sauté them, both sides, in olive oil over medium heat until hot, crisp and browned. Spoon black olive tapenade on top and garnish with half of a grape tomato.

Put a spoonful of black olive tapenade on halved tomatoes and roast or broil.

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Hors d’oeuvresFrenchOlives

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