When the weather starts to heat up, my taste buds always venture to the South of France, long renowned for its ethereal golden light and incredible rustic fare. A cuisine so rich and vibrant, often punctuated with flavorful condiments like spicy rouille and olive tapenade that just seem to enhance everything they come in contact with. Even your first glass of pastis at the cafe mid-morning.

The word tapenade is derived from the Provençal word tapeno which means capers. Early tapenade recipes included fresh tuna although most these days use anchovy instead. The early tapenade recipes included tuna, something that has all but disappeared from modern tapenade recipes. It’s sad because tuna adds such a creamy texture and lowers the salinity. Not that I have ever feared sea salt.

Jean Baptiste Reboul, author of the classic ‘La Cuisiniere Provencale’, gives an early recipe direct from his dear friend Charles Meynier, chef of the Maison Doree in Marseilles, which includes equal proportions of olives and capers, half as much anchovy and preserved tuna, mustard, olive oil, thyme, pepper, bay leaf and cognac. Over the years the ratio of olives to capers has shifted in favor of olives, from equal billing to about 65% olives and 35% capers. Admittedly I make mine with a far more modern ratio.

Resist your first inclination to be lazy and buy pitted olives. Instead, buy whole olives and pit them yourself. Pitting is quick and easy following my simple regime: Pour yourself a big glass of wine, or better yet, a glass of pastis. Close your eyes as you take a sip, think deeply of the last stupid argument you had with your wife and then start smacking the olives with the flat side of a heavy knife. Release your aggressions as the olive meats easily separates from the pit. Whack too hard and you smash the pit. Whack perfectly and the pit pops right out.

Afterward, find your wife and hug her. She won’t know why but will greatly appreciate the presumably unwarranted attention. Give her a glass of wine and a tartine smeared with goat cheese and tapenade and whisper in her ear about how much you love her. It’s marriage therapy and a workout all in one. Stay completely clear of those crappy canned black olives you find in American grocery stores. I am not even sure how manufacturers could ruin olives so easily but they do.

I love eating tapenade on everything; artichokes, grilled fish, roast chicken and even smeared on tartines with fresh goat cheese. Try these tapenades spread thick on tartines (toasted baguette brushed with olive oil, garlic, and herbes de Provence) with a drink as a prelude to a great meal.

Close your eyes and you will be transported to Provence by the experience!

Tapenade, 5 Recipes

Quintessential Tapenade

2 cups pitted Kalamata olives

4 tablespoons capers

4 anchovy fillets

8 basil leaves

1/4 cup fragrant French olive oil

Fig Tapenade

1 cup pitted Kalamata olives

1 cup dried figs

4 tablespoons capers

4 anchovy fillets

8 basil leaves

1/4 cup fragrant French olive oil

Green Tapenade with Preserved Tuna Belly and Lemon

2 cups pitted Picholine olives

4 tablespoons capers

1 small tin tuna belly

1/2 lemon, zested

8 basil leaves

1/4 cup fragrant French olive oil

Charles Meynier’s recipe

2 cups pitted olives

4 tablespoons capers

1-ounce tin tuna belly

8 anchovy filets

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/2 lemon, zested

8 basil leaves

1/4 cup fragrant French olive oil

1 teaspoon Cognac or Marc

Eggplant Tapenade

2 cups pitted Kalamata olives

1 cup roasted eggplant puree

4 tablespoons capers

2 anchovy fillets

4 basil leaves

1/4 cup fragrant French olive oil

Whichever Tapenade Variation You Make:

Drain your olives well. Put everything in your food processor and pulse to the texture you like. Yes, it is as simple as that. Tapenade has a long shelf life despite the fact my tapenade never lasts more than a meal or two.

Watch a cool YouTube video I made for Tapenade Sunshine

Click on Picture for a FREE copy of my Provencal Cook Book

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My earliest attempt at cookery began with the filleting of my sister's goldfish at age 2 and cooking my pet rabbits by age 7. Life has been downhill ever since.

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