Yesterday’s post, on capers, mentioned the specialty book Anchovies, Olives and Capers by Georgeanne Brennan. Those three Mediterranean ingredients all have some common characteristics: intensity of flavor, easily recognized flavor, and saltiness from their preparation. What would happen if you combined all three? Well the French asked and answered that question long ago. Here is Brennan’s classic recipe for Tapenade, using anchovies, olives and capers.

Brennan notes that centuries of creative cooks have evolved many recipes for tapenade beyond this basic one. The taste will certainly vary with the olives used. More of this recommended thyme, or still other, herbs can be applied. Ground almonds, bread crumbs, and, I suspect, a secret splash of liquor are also possible additions.

Start with this basic recipe. Spread it on bread, enjoy a hearty red wine with it, and marvel at how three strong ingredients can work together so perfectly.

The saltiness of the three primary ingredients means no additional salt is included in the standard recipe. And the flavors are so intense that pepper is not suggested either. If you do add salt, consider taking your blood pressure.


Yield: 1 cup


1 ½ cups salt-cured black olives, pitted
16 anchovy fillets
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
½ teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


Traditionally, this spread is made with a mortar and pestle, pounding the ingredients until they form a smooth paste. The process can also be accomplished in a blender, however. Put all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.

If you are not using the tapenade immediately, put the puree in a jar, cover tightly and store in the refrigerator, where it will keep for up to three months. [See, that salt can really accomplish something — 3 months!]

If you have refrigerated the tapenade, bring it back to room temperature before serving. It’s interesting if eaten cold, but warmth is needed for the flavors to merge, meld, and emerge sublimely.

Source: Olives, Anchovies, and Capers by Georgeanne Brenna