Your Olives Aren’t Salty Enough by Themselves—Add Capers and Anchovies

Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 9 2013 2:16 PM

You’re Doing It Wrong: Olives

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Olive Tapenade

Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo forSlate

Tapenade is, Wikipedia helpfully notes, “not to be confused with tamponade.” I should hope not, unless you’re a playwright looking for a premise for your next farce. One of these two words refers to a method of diminishing bleeding by stopping up a wound. The other describes the best thing to do with olives.

L.V. Anderson L.V. Anderson

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 

Yes, better even than eating them by themselves. It can be very pleasant to nibble on a big green Cerignola or a dainty indigo niçoise, preferably while sipping wine on a terrace in one of those olive’s namesake towns. But olives qua olives are … repetitive. Crushing salty, juicy, meaty flesh between your molars is exciting the first time you do it, but the pleasure diminishes steeply with each new fruit. Has anyone ever binged on olives? I doubt it. A few bites of the oil-berry, as Medieval Europeans dubbed it, are always enough.

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Tapenade, on the other hand, makes you want more of it, even if it means ruining your appetite for dinner. It’s hard to account for the addictive nature of this paste of olives, capers, anchovies, and olive oil. (The name comes from a Provençal term for capers, even though they play a supporting role.) My highly unscientific theory is that those other ingredients intensify everything that is good about olives (saltiness, oiliness) and remove or mitigate the drawbacks (acridity, pits). Adding anchovies and capers to olives might sound like adding honey and maple syrup to sugar, but it works. (Tapenade, I mean. I can’t vouch for the latter concoction.)

In addition to being crazy addictive, tapenade is crazy easy to make in a blender or food processor. Ideally, you’ll stop the machine once all the ingredients are minced but not fully puréed, to ensure a rough texture. But if you go overboard—or if your machine knows no interval between giving ingredients a gentle twirl and thoroughly pulverizing them—it’s no big deal. A mix of pert, tart green olives and soft, savory black olives is ideal. (The latter are ripened versions of the former, which accounts for their differences in texture and taste.) Fresh olives—from an olive bar, if your local grocery store has one—are best. Jarred olives are a fine alternative; canned are not.

Olives, capers, anchovies, and oil require only a few flavorful companions. Garlic and thyme make tapenade, which otherwise smells of seawater, agreeably aromatic. And a squeeze of lemon juice ensures that the spread is not only as salty but also as zingy as one of Nicki Minaj’s rapidfire epithets.

Olive Tapenade
Yield: About 1½ cups
Time: 10 minutes

1 cup pitted oil-packed black olives
½ cup pitted green olives
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more if needed
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tablespoon capers
2 garlic cloves
3 canned oil-packed anchovy fillets
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
Black pepper
Baguette or crackers for serving

Put the black olives, green olives, olive oil, lemon, capers, garlic, anchovies, and thyme in a food processor or blender; season with black pepper. Process until all the ingredients are minced, adding more olive oil if necessary to help the machine do its work. Serve spread on baguette or crackers. (Store leftover tapenade in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.)

Previously in You’re Doing It Wrong:
Tomato Sauce
Cheese Puffs
Kale
Pesto
Ratatouille
Guacamole
Hummus

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