Tapenade is a dark, rich Mediterranean paste made with olives, anchovies and capers. (Photo: indrektorilo/flickr)

Behold tapenade, the dark, rich paste that could only have been born under Mediterranean skies. It comes from Provence, where caper bushes sprout from rocky places and outdoor walls all summer long. Long ago, some good cook crushed caper buds preserved in brine with local black olives and anchovies, creating the versatile spread with big, big flavor.

Although the dish is named for capers (tapenas in Provençal), olives are the majority ingredient here. Brightened with garlic, lemon juice and thyme and doused with good olive oil, tapenade is superb just spread on toast as an appetizer or snack. But you can also add a whole dimension of flavor when you incorporate a little of it to pasta, fish, or vegetables.

And a little is all you need – with its assertive presence, a little tapenade goes a long way. It’s easy to make in a food processor, and so much better than anything store-bought. And once you’ve bought your jars of capers, olives and anchovies, you have the makings of fresh tapenade for weeks to come.

While black olives are traditional, some prefer to use green olives. Either way, I recommend going to the trouble of pitting whole olives, because their flavor seems to leak away into the brine when ready-pitted. It takes about five minutes and a sharp knife to free the olives of their pits.

Experiment with different olive varieties. Add more lemon if you like. Some cooks add a quarter-cup blanched almonds or pine nuts to the food processor bowl. Leave the anchovies out, if you dislike them. It may not be traditional, but it’ll still be delicious.

Classic olive tapenade

PrintPrep10 minutes


  • 1 cup whole black kalamata olives
  • 3 tbsp capers
  • 4 anchovy fillets or 2 whole anchovies
  • 1 large garlic clove, mashed
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • Juice of 1/2 medium lemon
  • 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste


  • Pit the olives.
  • Rinse the capers in cold water to rid of excess salt; drain thoroughly.
  • Rinse the anchovy fillets in cold water, twice; drain thoroughly.
  • Put all ingredients in the food processor. Use the processor’s smaller bowl if there is one.
  • Process on high speed for 2 minutes, or until you obtain a rough paste.

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