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Tapenade is an olive-based spread common in Mediterranean cuisine. The most traditional recipe involves only a few ingredients, including black olives, caper berries, olive oil, and anchovies that are mashed together into a thick paste. That paste can then be spread on toast, used to flavor meats, or eaten as a dip. The dish dates back to Roman times, but is popular all over the world today, and comes in many different variations.
Making tapenade is generally very easy, though it can take a bit of time. The most traditional preparation method requires the cook to mash all ingredients together with a mortar and pestle. Ideally, the end result will be chunky, but well blended. Similar results can be achieved in a food processor, or simply by chopping all ingredients into very small pieces and blending with a spoon.
Most cooks recommend letting the spread rest for a few hours before serving so that all of the flavors can blend together. Tapenades are usually served at room temperature, though most will keep for up to a month in the refrigerator, longer if topped with a layer of olive oil. The oil will act as a preservative to help keep the ingredients fresh.
Although olive tapenades are by far the most common, there are many variations on the traditional recipe. Some chefs use different varieties of olives to create interesting flavor combinations, and infused oils can also impact the taste. Adding outside ingredients is also common. The following is a list of some of the most popular additions:
Tapenade can be served with vegetables, fish, or meat, and is sometimes used as a stuffing. It can also be enjoyed on its own, often spread on artisan bread or crackers. Some use it as a sandwich spread, while others use it to top baked potatoes or to create an innovative pasta sauce.
Adding the spread to butter is also popular in many places. This sort of flavored butter can be used as a meat garnish or inserted under a chicken or turkey’s skin before roasting in order to give the meat flavor. It can also be formed into a log, chilled, and served in slices alongside warm bread.
Differences from Pesto
It can be easy to confuse tapenade with olive pesto, as the two often look very similar and are used in many of the same ways. The main difference is in the ingredients, with pestos typically featuring both cheese and nuts. While nuts are sometimes added to tapenades, cheese almost never is.
Even the earliest tapenades centered on olives, though the word “tapenade” derives from the old Provencal word for caper, “tapeno.” Provence is a region of France situated on the Mediterranean Sea, and is where the spread is believed to have originated. The name likely comes from the way in which Provence’s early residents stored caper berries. Despite the name, recipes for tapenade date back to Roman times.
When the berries, also known as buds, were ready for harvesting, farmers would collect and store them in tightly packed jars of olive oil. This preserved the berries, but also caused them to break down slightly. Upon removal, cooks often found more of a caper paste than distinct buds. Adding olives and anchovies results in what today is commonly known as tapenade.