Tapenade, the robustly flavored olive condiment from our friends in Provence, France, is gaining popularity in these United States. As well it should. Once you see how easy it is, and more importantly, how versatile it is as a flavoring ingredient, you’ll want to keep a jar of it in your fridge at all times.
Why you need to learn this
Tapenade may be the easiest thing you’ll ever make, this side of toast. Back in the day, it required loads of exhausting grinding with a mortar and pestle. Nowadays, the most taxing aspect is pushing the “On” button on your food processor. In fact, you can probably just sit back and watch TV while your chimp butler makes it for you.
You do have a chimp butler, don’t you?
The steps you take
Like the mighty Corn Palace of Mitchell, S.D., tapenade is one of those things that’s greater than the sum of its parts. And that’s saying something, because every one of its parts is super flavorful on its own. Olives, garlic, capers, anchovies — any one of these is its own little happy mouth party. Together, they’re the gustatory embodiment of a Batman graphic: Kapow!
Now, I mentioned that tapenade’s construction is simply a matter of pulsing the ingredients in a food processor. One little thing: Some people like their tapenade chunky with whole or nearly whole capers and visible pieces of olive. Others like it whirred to silky smoothness. There’s no right or wrong, of course, just personal preference. I suggest starting chunky and seeing how you like it. You can always process it a little more to smooth it out.
Speaking of no right or wrong, as you can imagine, there are exactly three gazillion and seven recipes for tapenade. If you’re an old hand in the kitchen, I’ll bet you could make up a recipe on the spot that would be every bit as good as what I’m about to give you. Just keep in mind that olives are the main ingredients, so you’ll use a lot of them versus relatively smaller amounts of capers, garlic and anchovies, the latter two of which are particularly prone to overpowering. Here’s my base recipe:
- 8 ounces pitted olives
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 ounces capers (a little over 1/3 cup, packed)
- 3 anchovy fillets
- 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Extras: You could also add a splash of brandy, a spoonful of Dijon mustard, some fresh or dried herbs like thyme, savory or herbes de Provence. Some people even add canned tuna to the mix.
Throw everything in the food processor and give it a buzz. Done.
Well, the obvious thing is to slather spoonfuls of tapenade over slices of good, crusty bread, like a well-made baguette. Here are a few more ideas, just to convince you to make it in case you still have doubts.
Pizza: This may sound crazy, but, trust me, it’s delicious. Especially if you’re making homemade pizza, just spread some tomato sauce over the dough, spoon some tapenade (chunky is better for this, I think) over and sprinkle with julienned red onion.
Pasta: Same as pizza. Stir some tapenade into your red sauce (the plainer, the better, so the flavors of the tapenade aren’t lost) and toss with hot noodles.
Mayonnaise: If you’ve ever had a muffuletta, you know that olives are great on sandwiches. Mixing some tapenade in with the mayo is a simple way of having a muffuletta-style experience without having to travel to its native New Orleans.
Salads 1: And speaking of sandwiches, all of your sandwich salads, like tuna salad, chicken salad, egg salad, they’d all benefit from a spoonful of tapenade stirred in. Or, save yourself the trouble and use the tapenade mayo from above when you make the salad in the first place.
Salads 2: And speaking of salads, think of any kind of non-sandwich salad — green salad, pasta salad, potato salad — and just before you dress it, stir some tapenade into the dressing, whether it’s mayo or a vinaigrette.
Eggs: Tapenade and eggs are a great combo in just about any form. Just remember that the tapenade is so powerful, a little goes a long way. Smear some across the interior side of your omelet just before folding or stir it into your eggs before scrambling. For over-easy eggs, just after you crack your egg into the pan, spoon a little tapenade into the still liquid whites. When you flip the egg, the tapenade gets cooked in.
Compound butter: Mix softened butter with tapenade. Place it on a sheet of plastic wrap or parchment and roll it out into a 1- to 2-inch thick log and chill to harden. Cut slices to set on top of grilled or seared meats or fish. The heat from the meat will melt the butter, creating a delicious sauce as it mixes with the juices from the meat.
Prep School is a Tribune News Service column by James P. DeWan, an award-winning food writer, chef and culinary instructor who teaches at Kendall College in Chicago. He is the author of “Prep School: How to Improve Your Kitchen Skills and Cooking Techniques,” a collection of his columns.