Nosh: Green and Black Olive Tapenade with Fennel

You know when you start getting those party invitations, and they say something like, “Bring finger food!  A small dish to share!  Some nibbles!”?  And you know that chips will be in abundance and someone will surely already have hummus and it’s not like you can bring soup and you may have to work your way past at least one–maybe two–variations of a 7-layer dip?  Dilemma.  And party season is fast approaching.

In the interests of full disclosure, I confess that I’m ready to fall to my knees and thank God/the universe/the deities of all trendy foods that we’re witnessing the slow, groaning, agonizingly prolonged end of that spinach dip/bread bowl combo.  Enough, people.  I’m like, “Oh, you’re going to be at X party, and you’re bringing spinach dip?  Sorry I’ll miss it; I’ve got to stay in that night and count my armpit hairs.” This is not “just saying”.  This is unrepentant, detached honesty.  And I digress.

What to bring?  Relax, people, Imma help.  Make tapenade!  It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s no-cook, it just requires a food processor or blender (the processor is slightly better in this instance since it won’t require as much “open the top and push it back down onto the blades”, and blender users, you know what I’m talking about, but if you don’t have said processor then blend away!).  You can add whatever seasonings you’d like, though I reallllllllly recommend using ground fennel.  Here’s what you need:

  • 1 cup pitted (as in, pits are removed for you.  It’s not hard to pit olives but nevertheless, why not make it easier on yourself?) olives.  I used both green and black olives, but you can use whatever kind you’d like.
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained and rinsed
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 teaspoon ground fennel
  • 1/4 cup (or, if you measure like me, 1 smallish handful) fresh parsley
  • 2 or 3 cloves garlic
  • a shake or two of crushed red pepper flakes, if you’re so inclined
  • ground black pepper, to taste

The hardest part of the tapenade (provided you bought olives sans pits) will be grinding your fennel seed.

Have at it.

Have at it.

Just put your fennel in your handy-dandy mortar and pestle and tear into it and 45(ish) seconds later, you’ve got beautiful freshly ground fennel seed.  Prepare to be knocked over by the fragrance that wafts up at you; who knew dried seeds could smell so good?  Or you could put it in a spice grinder.  Or buy ground fennel.  Whatever works.

Oh!  And remember, when dealing with lemons, zest first, then juice.  Trying to do it the other way around = not so much.


That’s about it for specialty instructions.  You could chop your garlic slightly, or maybe coarsely chop your parsley; I think I waved the knife menacingly at my garlic but really, it’s going into a thing with giant whirly blades and I am perfectly happy to let it do the work for me.  Take all your ingredients and put them in your food processor.

Everybody in the pool!

Everybody in the pool!

And whirr until everything is nicely ground together.  You don’t want a smooth paste; you still want to see slightly chunky bits of olives and garlic and parsley.  Put the tapenade in a serving bowl and drizzle with a little bit of extra-virgin olive oil to really round out the rich, warm, olive-y taste.



A few things…

1. Notice I didn’t mention adding salt.  Olives and capers are salty enough, I think, and I generally never (ever) add salt to tapenade.  If you must, then wait until the very end, after everything is blended, to see how much or how little you’ll think is necessary.

2.  Give capers a chance.  I know that a lot of people in the US aren’t familiar with capers–they’re brined! they look like mutant peas!–but these little flavor bombs of salty-vinegary tang are totally worth a shot.

3.  I continue to run across people who can’t eat garlic because they’re allergic.  My heart goes out to them.  If you can’t eat said garlic, then remove it from this recipe, that’s fine.  Toss in extra capers.  Or!  Try something different.  You could add in shallots.  If you don’t want to keep it vegetarian, then I bet some crisped pancetta would be a welcome addition.  Or add a strip of orange rind (which I would probably slightly chop before whirring, since that can be tough to get through) for a citrus tapenade.

4.  Mmmm, orange rind.

5.  Once it’s ready, grab a sleeve of crackers or some sliced bread, and go.  Have fun!  Avoid the spinach dip.

I love tapenade, even though I sort of have a love/hate relationship with olives.  I do enjoy them, but I find myself easily overwhelmed by them.  I made this for a friend the other night who also loves/hates olives but digs a good tapenade.  He said, “What’s great about this version is there’s enough other stuff going on that I don’t feel like I’m just eating olives.  I keep getting distracted by the other flavors, but then I get the taste of these really great olives.  It’s fun.”



And friends, that is what I call a kitchen win.

We served this with butternut squash pasta, roasted kohlrabi, roasted cauliflower (coming soon) and a green salad.


4 responses to Nosh: Green and Black Olive Tapenade with Fennel

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