July 7, 2023

French Olive Tapenade

A Unique Appetizer Idea

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Black olive tapenade in the bowl.

Olive Tapenade is a staple in French Apéritifs. An appetizer, or apéritif. as we call it in France, is intended to relax and prepare the body for a meal. A small nibble of something gets the digestive juices flowing rather than satisfying hunger. Therefore, appetizers should be served in small quantities to promote maximum enjoyment of a meal.

Tapenade is ideal and delicious for an apéritif and easy to make. This robust and flavorful spread is made with a base of extra virgin olive oil, fresh garlic, black or green olives, or both. Additional ingredients vary and can include sundried tomatoes, fresh herbs, capers, or lemon. Tapenade is served with thin slices of toasted bread or crackers, making it the perfect nibble before dinner - just enough to spark the appetite.


French Olive Tapenade

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This recipe from the South of France is a base from which you can add other ingredients to your liking. While the ingredient quantities are provided in the recipe, I rarely measure and instead eyeball the amounts. Each batch is different. Sometimes I add more sundried tomatoes, sometimes none. Sometimes I use both thyme and rosemary, one or the other, or neither if I don’t have any. If you have olives, garlic, and olive oil, your tapenade will be delicious.



1 cup pitted cured black olives * See the notes below.

2-3 tbsp sundried tomatoes in oil

2 tablespoons capers

1 clove garlic

1 tablespoon fresh thyme

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil


To prepare the tapenade, combine the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until everything is finely chopped.

Serve with toasted bread or crackers. 


Olive tapenade is incredibly versatile. Feel free to experiment with different types of olives (such as green or Niçoise). When using green olives, I particularly like the addition of lemon juice and lemon zest. To make this variation, add the zest of one lemon to about a cup of olives and one tablespoon of fresh lemon juice and taste. Add more lemon juice as you like.

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For ease and fast cleanup when making tapenade, use a mini food processor.

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Mini Food Processor

You will find this kitchen tool easy to use, wash, and indispensable in the kitchen. It's also ideal for making Caesar salad dressing and small batches of pesto. 

A mini cuisinart blender with the caesar salad ingredients

Making Caesar Dresing 

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Making Basil Mint Lemon Pistachio Pesto

pesto recipes page

Basil Pesto 

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Homemade Caesar Dressing

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I often cook "au pif," as we say in France, which means cooking without an exact recipe and by "feel" using your intuition.  You’ll often find guidelines in many recipes versus exact quantities.  Write to me here if you have any questions about the recipes.

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Use cured olives for tapenade and not canned black olives. Cured black olives are known for their superior taste and quality. They tend to have a more intense flavor than canned black olives and can be used to add depth and richness to dishes. Canned black olives have a more one-dimensional flavor and may not be of high quality.

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According to this article in National Geographic, “Black olives, though labeled as ‘ripe’ on supermarket cans, actually aren’t: these, a California invention, are green olives that have been cured in an alkaline solution, and then treated with oxygen and an iron compound (ferrous gluconate) that turns their skins a shiny patent-leather black. Ferrous gluconate [is used] to stabilize color.”

You can find cured olives at an olive bar at many supermarkets, but I find these Barral brand olives in a jar are top-notch with an unparalleled taste.

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You may also be interested in the following easy appetizer ideas:

Grapes and Gouda

Endive Leaves and Dijon Sauce

Crudites with Aioli

If you love olives, you might also like:

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Tomato Carpaccio

Tomato carpaccio served at theable next to a glass of red wine and baguette
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Pasta Puttanesca

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