Olive tapenade is a Provençal olive, caper and olive oil spread that bursts with briny, umami-rich flavor in just five minutes and two easy steps. Use this olive tapenade recipe to dress up hummus, add it to pasta or simply spread it on crostini for a quick and easy appetizer.
Olive tapenade combines a handful of loud and lively pantry staples–olives, capers, garlic, lemon, anchovies, and, of course, olive oil—in a food processor until you get an intensely bright, briny, and salty paste. It’s gluten and dairy free, vegan if you leave out the anchovies, and has an understated elegance yet it’s completely effortless to make.
In many ways, tapenade reminds me of Italian puttanesca—and you can certainly stir it into pasta with a good glug of olive oil for an easy weeknight dinner, perhaps with some quality canned tuna or broken sardines and Parmesan cheese on top.
But my go-to is as an absurdly easy appetizer, with focaccia, toasted French baguette, or crudité. There are so many ways to use tapenade—it’s really a wonder condiment that will bring your breakfast, lunches, and dinners to the next level. And it gets even better the next day.
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Ingredients for Olive Tapenade
Typically, olive tapenade recipes fall into two categories: green or black. I like to combine the two olives for a good balance of flavor, texture, and color. You’ll need:
- Olives: Kalamata olives add a rich, fruity, and slightly tangy flavor, while Castelvetrano olives have a sweet, mild, and buttery taste.
- Anchovies: Not at all fishy, I promise! Just like with pasta puttanesca, the anchovies dissolve into the tapenade adding an intense umami quality more comperable to Parmesan cheese. That said, you can leave the fish out to make this spread vegan.
- Garlic: Adds spicy, savory flavor.
- Capers: Add an intensely briny quality. I use water packed capers, but if you have the salt packed variety simply soak them in water for 15 minutes or so to remove the salt.
- Seasonings: This spread is seasoned simply with thyme for freshness and black pepper for a mild, warm and gentle heat.
- Lemon juice and zest: Lift the savory and briny flavors, lightening the intensity of the tapenade.
- Olive oil: Turns the flavorful paste into a decadent spread while adding quite a bit of its own flavor. Use a high quality extra virgin variety.
- For serving: I love this spread on toasted French baguette or along with a crudité platter.
How to Make Olive Tapenade
At first glance you may think such dominant ingredients would fight too hard for the spotlight. On the contrary, they work together to bring a confidently bright, savory, and salty flavor that will keep you coming back for more. And there's just two steps!
- Combine. In the bowl of a small food processor fitted with a blade, add 1 cup each of pitted Kalamata and Castelvetrano olives. Add 3 anchovy filets, 1 peeled garlic clove, 1 tablespoon capers, 1 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves, a pinch of black pepper (or more to taste), and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Close the lid and pulse a few times until the olives are finely chopped but not pureed. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and pulse a few more times just until the mixture loosens up a bit.
- Finish and serve. Transfer the olive mixture to a small serving bowl. Sprinkle with the zest of one lemon. Serve with toasted French baguette on the side.
How to Store Olive Tapenade
To store olive tapenade, transfer it to an airtight container and cover with a thin layer of olive oil to seal it from the air–just like how you store pesto.
Store in your refrigerator for up to two weeks. Give it a quick stir before you use it. If the olive oil has solidified on top, just wait 10 minutes or so for it to become liquid again, then stir it into the spread.
What to Serve With Olive Tapenade
This feels like a “where should I begin?” situation because there are SO many delicious ways to use tapenade. The classic use is as an easy appetizer with a vessel of some kind (like baguette, pita bread or chips, focaccia, or a crudité platter.
For a party, you can let your guests help themselves. Or spread the tapenade onto toasted bread and set on a platter for finger food. But don’t stop there! Here are some more ways to use olive tapenade:
- Roast chicken or flaky white fish: Spread on a thin layer just before roasting. You can also spread it all over whole roast chicken, pushing it up under the skin to really make the most of the flavor, or even on top of grilled meats like skirt steak.
- Sandwiches: Use as a condiment for sandwiches like Antipasto chicken sandwich. Use as a spread with or without aioli—you can even whisk it right into aioli to make an olive mayo.
- Eggs: Olives are a big part of a Mediterranean breakfast! And their bright and salty flavor is a delicious complement to rich egg dishes. Fold into omelets, as a toping for fried eggs or egg muffins.
- As a general condiment: Elevate your pizza, fries, roast artichokes, and more with salty, briny olive tapenade.
Appetizer and Mezze
Appetizer and Mezze
Appetizer and Mezze
Appetizer and Mezze
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- 1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
- 1 cup pitted Castelvetrano olives
- 3 oil-packed anchovy filets (optional)
- 1 large garlic clove
- 1 tablespoon water-packed capers, drained and rinsed
- 1 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
- Black pepper
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Zest of 1 lemon
- French baguette, cut into slices and lightly toasted, for serving (or sliced veggies, see note)
- Combine. In the bowl of a small food processor fitted with a blade, add the olives, anchovy, garlic, capers, thyme, a pinch of black pepper, and lemon juice. Close the lid and pulse a few times until the olives are chopped but not pureed. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and pulse a few times to make a runny sauce.
- Finish and serve. Transfer the olive mixture to a small serving bowl. Sprinkle the lemon zest on top. Serve with the toasted bread on the side.
- To make this tapenade vegan: Simply leave out the anchovy filets.
- For a gluten-free option: This spread is also delicious with crudité in place of the bread.
- If you don’t have a food processor: You can pound the ingredients in a mortar and pestle instead. You can also finely chop, then use the side of your knife along a sturdy cutting board to drag the ingredients to form a paste.
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