Olive Tapenade

This typical dish from the South of France evokes early-evening apéritifs in the height of summer. Simply crush some olives? There is more to it than that…

Summer vacations are the ideal moments for long aperitifs, or pre-dinner drinks, taking our time and chatting with friends, typically in the shade of an olive tree, lulled by the sound of cicadas, sipping a glass of chilled rosé wine or aniseed pastis… and sharing some tapenade on delicious French bread.

You can easily recognize those who buy ready-made tapenade and those who make it themselves, as the former consider tapenade as nothing more than an olive paste (which does exist and is a Nice specialty). Olives, olive oil, yes, but tapenade would be nothing without capers.

The name tapenade actually stems from its use of capers (topeno means caper in the Southern French dialect Provençal). I discovered through my research for this post that capers come from the caper, a pretty shrub growing on the Mediterranean coast whose buds are marinated in brine known as saumure in French, a mixture of salt and vinegar.

Tapenade was invented in the late 19th century by a chef from the biggest city in the South of France – Marseille – as a garnish for hard-boiled eggs. Apart from the olives and capers the original recipe includes anchovies and tuna, perhaps reflecting the fact that Marseille was the biggest port in Europe.
I also prefer to add tuna because it gives a smoother texture without altering the taste.

RECIPE
Preparation time: 20 minutes (the longest process being pitting the olives!)
Cooking time: none
Quantity: about 50 toasts
Specific equipment: mixer

INGREDIENTS
200 gr (7 oz) black olives
50 gr (± 1 3/4 oz) capers
3 anchovy fillets
1 clove of garlic (optional)
100 gr (3 1/2 oz) tuna (canned cooked tuna is fine)
1 cup olive oil
If needed, refer to the Conversion and Measures article here

MAIN STEPS
After removing the pits of the olives, mix all the ingredients together. Add olive oil to improve texture and taste. Serve on bread slices.

DIRECTIONS
Prepare the ingredients: remove the pits of the olives and drain the capers. Using a blender, mix them together.
Add the tuna and mix. Then add the garlic, the one by one the anchovies and mix. Taste each time you add an anchovy and stop if you feel it’s strong enough.
Throughout the process, gradually pour in the olive oil. Stop adding oil once you are satisfied with its smooth texture.
Everything here is a matter of personal taste. You can obviously add more capers or anchovies. I personally use little garlic and few anchovies. However I’m very picky about the type of olives used.
Tip: The choice of olives is essential because the success of the recipe will depend on their quality. Avoid buying olives with pits already removed and choose those in olive oil. They will be tastier.
Serve tapenade on slices of bread. Avoid plain white bread, prefer toasted baguette or country-style bread.
Tapenade can also be served as a side of main dishes such as fish or white meat.
Tapenade can be stored in the refrigerator a good week (to conserve it longer, cover your tapenade preparation with olive oil).

tapenade 2 500