Suzi's Blog

Classic Olive Tapenade with Capers and Anchovies

Yesterday’s post, on capers, mentioned the specialty book Anchovies, Olives and Capers by Georgeanne Brennan. Those three Mediterranean ingredients all have some common characteristics: intensity of flavor, easily recognized flavor, and saltiness from their preparation. What would happen if you combined all three? Well the French asked and answered that question long ago. Here is Brennan’s classic recipe for Tapenade, using anchovies, olives and capers.

Brennan notes that centuries of creative cooks have evolved many recipes for tapenade beyond this basic one. The taste will certainly vary with the olives used. More of this recommended thyme, or still other, herbs can be applied. Ground almonds, bread crumbs, and, I suspect, a secret splash of liquor are also possible additions.

Start with this basic recipe. Spread it on bread, enjoy a hearty red wine with it, and marvel at how three strong ingredients can work together so perfectly.

The saltiness of the three primary ingredients means no additional salt is included in the standard recipe. And the flavors are so intense that pepper is not suggested either. If you do add salt, consider taking your blood pressure.

Tapenade

Yield: 1 cup

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups salt-cured black olives, pitted
16 anchovy fillets
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
½ teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Preparation:

Traditionally, this spread is made with a mortar and pestle, pounding the ingredients until they form a smooth paste. The process can also be accomplished in a blender, however. Put all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.

If you are not using the tapenade immediately, put the puree in a jar, cover tightly and store in the refrigerator, where it will keep for up to three months. [See, that salt can really accomplish something — 3 months!]

If you have refrigerated the tapenade, bring it back to room temperature before serving. It’s interesting if eaten cold, but warmth is needed for the flavors to merge, meld, and emerge sublimely.

Source: Olives, Anchovies, and Capers by Georgeanne Brenna

Capers 101 and Caper Butter

Capers. You know the word and in a second your mind thinks: round, kinda like a peppercorn, and salty.

Capers are a treat, a genuine utilitarian ingredient that can be applied to many different recipes. The lovely book Anchovies, Olives and Capers by Georgeanne Brennan devotes mini-chapters to explaining the backgrounds of these three Mediterranean wonders. And Brennan supplies both very simple and classic recipes using the three, sometimes together for overpowering bursts of flavor. The Caper Butter recipe below is a fast way to a world beyond garlic bread. Toast some bread, apply this caper butter, and two things will happen: you’ll be pleased and you’ll be thirsty. I think I love capers because of all that salt.

All that salt. Brennan explains the origins, care, and proper use of capers. The flowering bud of the caper bush, capers are something that could easily be overlooked. They are the prototype Mediterranean deserty plant: short, squat, and not edible without processing. The natural plants love stony walls and crevices and grow to at most 3 feet wide and a 1 ½ feet high. If you are hiking, you’ll just step over them.

As a cultivated crop, Spain and Italy are the primary sources of capers. Whether wild or cultivated, the capers must be picked by hand and then undergo multiple processing steps, all involving salt.

The picked capers are first put in barrels with sea salt, left for several days, then the resulting brine is poured off, and a new, second round of salt is added. The capers spend another two weeks in the salt.

Now, regional differences apply. In Italy, the capers are packed in a third round of salt, left for 2 months, and are then ready to eat. In Spain, it is a salt brine that is the third “round” for the capers. In France, round three is to bottle them in vinegar.

To get the pure caper flavor, it is best to rinse them thoroughly to remove the coating from their third round: salt, brine, or vinegar. And that flavor, still salty, is distinctive. It’s mustardy, peppery, sour, sparkling with intensity.  A few go a long way. Used adroitly, say in potato salad, capers will naturally accelerate all the other flavors without dominating the dish. And caper versatility is endless: in salads, sauces, added to chicken, sprinkled on top of salmon with lemon juice. Feel free to open a jar, give them a rinse, and sample a Mediterranean moment.

Here is the easiest possible way to begin your caper adventures.

Caper Butter

Yield: ½ cup

Ingredients:

½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained

Preparation:

Using a wooden spoon or an electric mixer, soften the butter in a bowl. Add the capers and mix until well blended. Shape the butter into a log and wrap in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

To use, cut off slice of the butter as needed.-

Source: Olives, Anchovies, and Capers by Georgeanne Brenna