This is a very old, very Mediterranean dish – squished up olives, garlic, anchovies and capers. Cato the Elder wrote about it; the Greeks probably had it, too, since the Romans nicked many of their recipes from them.
Now, it’s a Provençal dish – tapenade comes from the Occitan word Tapenas, which means capers. So, don’t let anyone tell you the capers are optional.
Originally the olives would be squished up in a pestle and mortar; now I do it with my trusty stick blender.
I take one jar of green olives, 500g dry weight (it’s about a kilo with the water inside too – I drain out the water, obviously). To this I add a jar of anchovies (100g), the oil inside as well; half a jar of capers (30g of capers), and two – four cloves of garlic, depending on how old the garlic is and how many
of my wife’s aunts vampires I need to repel.
All this gets squished down into the olive jar with the stick mixer. I drizzle in some olive oil – just enough to get it moving, really, otherwise it becomes a dipping sauce rather than a spreading paste. Say, 25-50ml.
Keep mixing with the stick mixer until it forms a fairly smooth paste. Some people like lumps in their tapenade, some like it to be completely smooth. Up to you.
Some people add other things to their tapenade: onion, herbs, lemon juice, brandy – as I’ve said before, peasant foods like this, bouillabaisse, cassoulet, tartiflette and all the rest are made with whatever you have lying around at the time.
Spread it on croutons. I make mine by slicing up baguette or, here, some of the fennel and sesame seed loaves I made yesterday, adding a little olive oil, some herbes de Provence and a very little salt, then baking them in the oven at 200°C for 20 minutes, turning the baking tray once to ensure they’re evenly coloured.
I usually make tapenade with green olives simply because they’re the easiest to find which have already been de-stoned, but in fact I prefer black tapenade personally. Black olives have more depth of flavour for me, but they’re less common and more expensive.
Black olives are more expensive as they stay on the trees for longer – black ones are riper than green ones. But leaving them on the trees costs money (time=money, remember) and also runs a greater risk of them being hit with a frost, which ruins the harvest.
Note also that properly cured ‘black’ olives are usually violet-dark purple in colour, not midnight black as you often see them in shops. Those that are very black have often been coloured with food dye.
We do get olives from the tree in our garden and I try to let them go black normally before curing them. But that’s a story for another day. Today, it’s tapenade on a crouton with a glass of Muscat before Sunday lunch.