Black Olive Tapenade

Years ago, because of my job, I visited the Southern area of France known as the Cote d’Azur, also referred to as the French Riviera. In my free time I enjoyed visiting open air markets, and my memory of them inevitably brings the image of this bright, glowing black olive purée displayed in ceramic bowls. It was tapenade.

Some foods have the distinctive characteristic of expressing a sense of place. Tapenade is one of them. The way its ingredients blend together always reminds me of those lively markets in beautiful Nice or Antibes and of something with a long, long history.

Though olives (most of the time black olives) are the main ingredient in tapenade, the name comes from another essential Mediterranean ingredient: capers. “Tapeno” was the word for capers in the Occitan language, a Romance language spoken in Southern France and parts of bordering Italy and Spain. Capers were transported back then in terracotta or clay vases (as olive oil was) and by the pressure of their own weight a paste would form in the bottom of the containers. That was probably the beginning of this rich, humble pâté.

There are variations of tapenade in different regions of Southern France, Catalonia or some parts of Italy, though the base is always black olives, capers and, very often, anchovies. Then, garlic, different herbs (in Greece basil is used), vinegar or lemon juice, mustard, orange zest, almonds, bread crumbs and also cognac or brandy can be added.

Recipes date back to the Roman Empire. In fact, the great agronomist Columella, presented one recipe in one of his treatises, already in the first century AD. By the way, Columella was surprisingly advanced in his understanding of olives (today one olive cultivar in France bears his name), being the first one who explained that certain varieties were genetically more suitable for table olives and other ones more suitable for olive oil.

I lean towards keeping tapenade a simple recipe. Since at Pacific Sun Farms we cure our own olives with care and patience (using a very slow fermentative method with brine that renders very flavorful olives after 10 months or so), I want that flavor to be clearly recognized as part of it and not get buried under too many ingredients.

For this recipe, we suggest using Nicoise, Kalamatas or Black Mission olives. It’s also fine to blend in some green olives, which will alter slightly the flavor without changing it too much.

Though most recipes use raw garlic I had good results sautéing the garlic just a little bit, which also flavors the olive oil. While it’s true that by doing so some pungency will be lost, this can be compensated by adding some good, vibrant EVOO at the end: Pacific Sun Farms Organic Blend, Tehama Blend or Tuscan Blend. For something closer to a Provençal tapenade, our milder olive oil, Eva’s Blend, will do.

I’m offering the recipe without and with anchovies. I’d encourage people afraid of the fishy anchovy flavor to give it a chance, for that flavor does not predominate and blends in nicely into an altogether different thing.

Tapenade Recipe (makes 8-10 appetizers)

  • 1 1/2 cups pitted ripe (black) olives. A good way to pit olives is to press them with the side of a knife until the olive cracks and the pit is exposed. Olive or cherry pitters work too.
  • 2 tablespoons rinsed capers
  • 1 large garlic clove with its germ removed, peeled and minced
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • Juice of a 1/4 lemon
  • 50ml extra virgin olive oil (Suggested Pacific Sun Farms EVOO Olive Oil: Organic Blend, Tehama Blend, Tuscan Blend or for something closer to a Provençal tapenade, Eva’s Blend is suggested.)
  • 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp. of dry one)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Optional ~ 2 anchovies fillet

Sautee the garlic at low heat in the olive oil, for 2 minutes. Let it cool.

In a blender, or, in a more traditional fashion, a mortar:

  • add the capers
  • add the olives
  • add the lemon zest and lemon juice
  • add the cooled garlic

Blend or pound all the ingredients, adding the olive oil little by little garnish with the thyme or with chopped parsley season with salt and pepper.

NOTE: you do not want to blend this to a totally smooth, almost liquid state.

Serve at room temperature on white bread slices. Tapenade can be also spread onto eggs, tomatoes, avocados and pastas. It’ll keep very well in the fridge for several weeks.


Posted on Categories General, Recipes