Spread The Love...

Although I very much enjoy cooking, I very rarely generate original recipes. I like to follow directions from a cookbook, magazine, or blog and have some measure of assurance that the meal I'm putting my time and energy into will turn out successfully. One exception is recreating dishes that I've had in restaurants, either that I particularly enjoyed or that were attached to a fond memory, such as the warm lentil salad topped with poached eggs that I ate in a little brasserie near Versailles and sometimes make for Dad on special occasions. In the former category is my recipe for olive tapenade, a spread made from finely chopped olives, garlic, capers, and anchovies that I like to serve as a canapé at cocktail parties.

I first encountered this delicacy at the Park Grill, a downtown restaurant owned by another one of Dad's restaurateur clients, in which our family has an investment. Since we have a stake in its success, we dine there with considerable frequency, and though their menu changes every few months, the olive tapenade that they serve with their bread basket has been a staple since day one. Having long been a fan of green olives, the spread quickly earned a place in my heart, and I was eager to replicate the experience at home.

It turned out to be a very simple task -- just toss all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until the desired texture is achieved. The secret lies entirely in the quality of the ingredients; I make a special trip to Whole Foods to find the best olives I can get my hands on. Don't let a dislike of anchovies dissuade you from making this, as they fade into the background and add an extra layer of flavor and saltiness to the mix. Also, don't feel like you have to save this recipe to make for a party. It also works beautifully as a stand in for the olive salad used on muffulettas, the New Orleans sandwich that consists of ham, salami, capicola, cheese, and olives on sesame seed bread. I dislike the peppers and pickled vegetables found in the traditional salad, so this tapenade is an ideal substitute.

In short, just keep an open mind and give this recipe a try. It's versatile, delicious, and makes a quick, easy, and impressive hors d'oeuvre for guests.

Olive Tapenade

2 c. assorted unseasoned, pitted olives (including niçoise, kalamata, green, and 3 tablespoons of pimento-stuffed manzanilla olives)
1 tablespoon capers
2 teaspoons anchovy paste
3-4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
zest of half a lemon

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until finely minced, but some texture remains. Serve with a sliced baguette or crackers.

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