Tapenade spreads sunshine on bread

March 16, 1994|By Cathy Thomas | Cathy Thomas,Orange County Register

Tapenade -- that delicious Provencal-style olive spread -- is one of those dishes that successfully captures the sunny flavors of the Mediterranean.

Although you see it popping up as a tangy appetizer in many trendy restaurants, it's fast and easy to make at home, especially if you have a food processor.

There are umpteen variations, but the basic ingredients are fairly consistent: olives (either black or green or a combination), capers, garlic, olive oil and anchovies. Some chefs like to add fresh herbs, such as thyme leaves, minced rosemary, Italian parsley or basil. Others add a splash of liquor such as rum or Armagnac. Minced orange rind or a squeeze of lemon juice or a pinch of dried red pepper flakes are other variables.

My favorite "Reality" tapenade combines mild green olives and kalamata olives, capers, garlic, anchovies, fresh thyme, olive oil and freshly ground pepper. I like to puree the garlic, capers and anchovies in the food processor and then add the pitted olives and pulse the machine so the olives are finely chopped but not pureed. For a simple appetizer, serve tapenade with thin slices of rustic bread.

Or serve Reality Tapenade with crunchy crostini. Prepare the crostini by combining some good olive oil and 1 or 2 cloves of minced garlic; brush mixture on both sides of sliced rustic bread. Place slices in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until lightly browned. For added interest, include some goat cheese (or herb-garlic flavored soft cheese) and chopped sun-dried tomatoes on the serving platter.

Tapenade can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week (airtight); it is best served at room temperature.

It can add great flavor to myriad dishes. Here are some additional ways to use it:

* Combine tapenade with softened butter (about 3/4 cup softened butter blended with 1 recipe of Reality Tapenade). Place this tapenade butter under the skin of chicken and broil or roast it. Or spread it over hot, broiled fish, lamb or steak.

* Place a small dollop of tapenade on top of sliced tomatoes to make a fast salad.

* Use it in roast beef or grilled tuna sandwiches.

* Toss it into cooked green beans, asparagus or sugar snap peas.

* Serve tapenade as a dip with wedges of fennel or turnip or hard-cooked eggs.

* Toss tapenade into hot, cooked pasta.

* Stir tapenade and mayonnaise into canned tuna to make a tasty tuna salad.

* Spread tapenade on sliced bagels topped with cream cheese.

* Make a zesty vinaigrette by adding a tablespoon of tapenade to your traditional mixture.

Reality tapenade

Makes 1 cup

2 tablespoons drained capers

3 large cloves garlic, peeled

6 anchovies

leaves from sprig of fresh thyme, optional

1 cup pitted black olives

1/2 cup mild green olives

4 tablespoons olive oil or extra-virgin olive oil

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme or Italian parsley for garnish

Place capers, garlic, anchovies and fresh thyme leaves (if using) in food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process until pureed, scraping sides of bowl to incorporate all ingredients. Add olives and olive oil; pulse

until olives are finely chopped but not pureed. Stir in freshly ground black pepper to taste.

It is best served at room temperature. Place tapenade in a small bowl in center of serving platter. Include a little knife for spreading. Accompany with thin slices of rustic bread or French baguette or Italian bread slices. Or toast bread slices that have been brushed with olive oil and garlic to make crostini. Garnish with sprigs of fresh herbs.

The original version of this recipe appeared in Sunset Magazine in November 1991. I've changed it slightly.

Mashed potato casserole with tapenade

Serves 10

6 large baking potatoes

1 1/4 cups herb-flavored soft cheese

salt and pepper to taste

2 eggs

Reality Tapenade (see previous recipe)

sprigs of Italian parsley, for garnish

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Peel and dice potatoes. Put in a 5- to 6-quart pan with about 1 inch of water. Cover and bring to boil on high heat; reduce heat and simmer until potatoes mash easily when pressed, 25-35 minutes. Drain well. Leave potatoes in pan or put them in a large bowl; add cheese. Mash potatoes until smooth. Do not use a food processor. Add salt and pepper to taste. Beat in eggs. Spread potatoes evenly in a 3-3 1/2 -quart shallow casserole.

With the tip of a small spoon, make 4 evenly spaced shallow, diagonal trenches across the top of the potatoes. Spoon tapenade into the trenches. Cover casserole snugly with foil.

Bake until hot in center, about 35 minutes. Remove foil. Garnish with sprigs of fresh Italian parsley, if desired, and serve.

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