Tapenade is a provencal olive spread traditionally served as a condiment for cooked and raw vegetables and hard-boiled eggs or slathered on toasted or grilled bread as an appetizer. It can also be spread in a thin layer on a pizza crust before you add tomatoes or cheese. Thinned with olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice, it becomes an intensely flavorful dressing. It is rather dark in appearance, but it tastes wonderfully rich and olive-y. It is up to you how you choose to use it. Do you want to spoon it only on dark salad items like broccoli or beets, where its deep color won’t show? Or are you going to take advantage of the dramatic blackness and proudly spread it in a graphic line on the salad ingredients? As a partial glamour remedy, you have the option to pretty it up with a garnish of chopped parsley or minced hard-boiled eggs.
Of course you can use one of the numerous tapenades sold in the gourmet section of the market, but it’s easy to make your own, and you can customize it. You might add some grated orange or lemon zest or a drop or two of Cognac.
For the real taste of Provence, I use black Nicoise olives, even though Kalamata olives are easier to pit and are even sold pitted. (Yes, there are green picholine or Nicoise olives and you can try them as a variation. But traditional tapenade is black, as is its Italian counterpart, olivada.) an olive pitter is not very practical for small Nicoise olives, which is why many cooks choose the larger Kalamatas for this condiment. I prefer the milder, less acidic taste of Nicoise olives, so I think they are worth the effort. To remove the pits easily, gently hit the olives with a meat pounder; it will loosen the flesh from the pits, and then it’s easy to pick them out with your fingers.
As for the capers, you can use salt-packed capers from Pantelleria in Italy or brined-soaked capers. I prefer the salt-packed capers, as they have non of the residual sourness that a strong brine imparts. In either case, rinse the capers well and pat them dry.
- 1 cup pitted black olives, preferably Nicoise
- 2 tablespoons salt-packed capers, rinsed and chopped
- 2 teaspoons chopped anchovies
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon or orange zest (optional)
- 4 to 6 tablespoons fruity extra virgin olive oil, preferable Provencal
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon Cognac or brandy (optional)
Combine the olives, capers, anchovies, garlic and zest, if using, in the container of a food processor. Pulse a few times to combine. Gradually add the olive oil, you can make this a very smooth puree or keep some texture. Add pepper to taste and the Cognac, if using. Store the tapenade, covered, in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before using.
Thin ½ cup tapenade with ¼ cup olive oil and 2 tablespoons mild white wine or Champagne vinegar.
Tapenade citrus dressing:
If you have added lemon or orange zest and want to play up the citrus, thin the tapenade with 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice.
Both of the above variations are good slathered on grilled vegetables, cooked tuna, and hard-boiled eggs, tossed in rice salads, and drizzled on roasted peppers and mozzarella salads, broccoli and cauliflower, orange and celery or fennel seeds, and oranges and beets.
Fold ½ cup tapenade into ½ cup mayonnaise. Excellent on sliced chicken and leg of lamb sandwiches, and great for egg salad.
Nutritional information is based on 20 servings.