This famous French condiment, originating in the Provencal region is almost always based on olives. Hence it came as a surprise to me discovering that tapenade takes its name from an Occitan or Provencal word, tapeno meaning capers. Capers are an important ingredient in tapenade, but by no means essential to the finished product.
The ingredients for tapenade leave no doubt as to the pungency of the dish. Olives, anchovies, capers and mustard. What is surprising is the range of dishes that this full force condiment can accompany. To go totally traditional, you can spread a little tapenade on slices of baguette, washed down with Provencal style wine. It is also often used as a dipping sauce for crudités. However, don't limit yourself to these applications, as tapenade is so versatile. Its flavour may be pungent, but it can easily play the counterpoint to subtler tastes, such as grilled meats or fish. At our restaurant we serve some tapenade on top of a wedge of semolina gnocchi to partner a roasted rack of lamb. Bold flavours indeed.
Most tapenade recipes will call for black olives, such as this version. The one I am currently making uses green olives. In the end it doesn't really matter what colour olives you use, but rely on the quality of your raw materials. Use the best, fleshiest olives you can find, and choose the capers, mustard and anchovies carefully. Remember that you only get what you pay for.
A special tip. Brandy is a traditional ingredient in true tapenade, but I am constantly amazed at how many recipes leave it out these days. Try making this tapenade without the brandy, taste, then add it later. You will be amazed by the way it brings all these brutal flavours into harmony.
Green olive tapenade
1/2 cup green olives (or substitute)
1 Tbs capers
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
3 cornichons (optional, but yummy)
4 anchovy fillets
1 clove garlic
1 nip (30 ml) brandy
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Take the pips out of the olives and discard. Chop the olive flesh into tiny dice and place into a bowl. Finely chop the capers, garlic, anchovies and cornichons if using. Add to the olives and mix well, adding the mustard, pepper, brandy and olives.
Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.
* You could just throw it all into a food processor, but that would be olive paste, not tapenade.