Tapenade is a caper and olive paste that comes from Provence, France. The word comes from “tapeno,” the Provençal word for caper. This paste is extremely versatile, being used for things like crostini for appetizers, a topping on grilled salmon, a marinade for roast chicken, lamb, or beef. Use it as a quick pasta sauce, on pizza, or even spoon a dollop into tired leftover soup to add some zip.
Use either black or green olives, oil-cured or brined. Oil-cured are easier to work with (if pitting the olives yourself), but brined can produce a great impact, too. Traditionally, tapenade is made with anchovies. I don’t usually use them but the recipe includes that option.
1 1/2 cups olives, pitted. Black or green, oil cured or brined, your choice*
2 medium cloves garlic, peeled and de-germed, chopped.
1 heaping tablespoon of capers (preferably salt cured), rinsed and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme and/or savory, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
Optional: 1 or 2 boned fillets of anchovy
Extra virgin olive oil as needed
Red wine vinegar or lemon juice, to taste (about 1-2 tablespoons)
1-2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
Salt if needed
Place olives, capers, garlic, herbs, and anchovy if using, into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to chop to a coarse paste.
Add 1 tablespoon of oil and pepper and pulse some more to mix well.
With motor running, add 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice. Stop motor and taste. Add more if desired.
With motor running, add olive oil to form a loose paste.
Taste for balance. You may need to add salt or more vinegar/lemon juice. The tapenade should have a balance of fruitiness from the olive, floral from the capers and herbs, and body from the garlic (and anchovy). All should be present, with no one element dominating the rest.
CHEF NOTES: I use vinegar in winter or when the tapenade is for meats. I like lemon juice for summer and fish, and for green olive tapenade. Meyer lemon juice adds a nice flavor, but you might need Eureka lemon juice or white wine vinegar for a little acid.
SOURCE: Recipe courtesy of Chef Andrew Cohen
*Most olives will work, but stay away from martini or other stuffed olives, and avoid “California” or Mission olives for tapenade as well. I do not recommend mixing colors of olives (unless it is a coarse, hand-chopped tapenade), but mixing oil and brine cured can produce some good results. Experiment and develop your own versions.