Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I have a second cousin living in London who counts as one of his multi tasked careers that of being a food writer and many of his favorite foods are those found in French Bistros. In one of his reviews he mentioned Tapenade, an olive based spread usually used on bread as an appetizer. He also mentioned that it could now be bought almost anywhere in the states, unlike when he first encountered it. I mentioned I would give it a try and he said even at Trader Joe's prices it was still more expensive than it needed to be and supplied me with the recipe he uses to serve his guests. Well I started out to find some in a jar first just to find out if I liked it. It is found in almost every grocery store and even in Walmart in various forms. Looking at the labels the ingredients were short some items in his recipe and had a bunch of stuff with long, unpronounceable names which I was sure were not all good for me. And what is the point of trying something a food critic recommends if it isn't close to the same recipe. So to plan B. All of the ingredients were readily available for a total of about 150% of the price of one jar of the commercial brands. The one exception was olives, a can of California black olives was under $1.50 and anything labeled Greek, Kalamata, Calamata or Calamon is over $5.00 for a jar. I decided I could make do with the California olives. The total cost of the ingredients is misleading, one batch of homemade is almost twice the volume found in a jar and most of the ingredients will make more than one batch. I happened to use the entire tin of anchovies but I made first a trial batch and then the double batch. Next time, if I only plan on one batch, I will try using fish sauce, which I always have, to lend the same taste. The capers will stay refrigerated for quite a while. The picture is double batch I made for a dinner party. I made it the night before so the flavors would blend and left it out 3 hours to bring to room temperature before going. My trial batch sucked because I did not get out the recipe and left out some stuff. The double batch turned out great and everybody who tried it liked it. One thing I had going against me was for 12 adults there was an entire table of appetizers plus a 20lb turkey, stuffing, potatoes, potato salad, 6 dozen tamales and I am sure I forgot some stuff. Needless to say not everybody tried the funny looking French stuff. :-) If Amy had screwed up the rest of the food maybe a few more folks would have tried the Tapenade.


8 oz black Greek-style olives
2 anchovies or 4 fillets
1 ½-2 tablespoons capers
1-3 cloves chopped garlic
pinch of cayenne
1 teaspoon basil leaves
3-4 tablespoons olive oil

Reduce all the ingredients except the olive oil to a rough paste in a food processor. Add the oil a little at a time, checking the consistency as you go. It should be homogeneous and spreadable, neither wet nor dry.
The anchovies may be preserved in olive oil, or canned, either with olive oil or salt. If the latter, rinse under running water and remove any salt crystals. Likewise the capers, which may be canned either in vinegar or salt. How much salt you add to the recipe, if any, will be determined by the saltiness of these two ingredients.
Cayenne and garlic to taste. Don’t be shy—some rough Proven├žal types are really macho about it!
Use extra virgin olive oil, of course; it’s a prominent part of the flavor.

Note: This mixture will improve for at least a week, but it probably won’t be around that long. It needn’t be refrigerated if the weather is cool.

Edit 1/31/16.  I continue to make this quite often to take to parties. More than once, my invitation has been tied to bringing some. If I am also supplying the bread I will try to pick up a small baguette and slice it in 1/2" slices.  Over the years I have replaced the anchovies with a bit of salt, because I know quite a few Vegans and Vegetarians, with no apparent loss of flavor. I use well more than a pinch of cayenne with positive comments. I keep all the ingredients on hand.  The cayenne and French basil come from Penseys and I buy large jars of minced garlic as I also use it for hummus.


Knitterman said...

I am assuming this is to be gently spooned onto crackers or (preferably) seasoned crunchy breads? Maybe it would be better if you prepared a tray of precut toast points with a bit of this on it, topped with a strip of pimiento or something for color...? (i.e., make it 'ready to eat' rather than 'scoop it yerself')

I'll see if the girls might like to try this. Donna especially has lots of party stuff. She had an interesting dip thing the other day, still waiting for the recipe.

SharpScott said...

Crackers will work however it is more often served on fresh bread or rolls. The olive oil will soak a bit in the bread.

Knitterman said...


Do you eat olive salad? I mean, the real kind like they use in a Muffuletta?

Shannon said...

I like the idea that this is made with black olives. I don't care for green olives. Do the anchoves give it a bit of ceasar taste? ie-ceasar dressing.
I enjoy slicing french bread thin and toasting it under the broiler and smearing stuff on it watching TV... I might try this. Sounds good.

John Whiting said...

As the proximate cause of this dangerous experiment, I'm glad it worked out! The thing to remember about authentic peasant recipes is that they're always designed to make the best use of the cheapest ingredients, so if you're making them in another country, experiment with substitutions that won't break the bank. Does that make it inauthentic and "fusion"? Historically, fusion food is the only kind there is.