I find there’s no guilt in making a meal of a thickly piled dip and hearty bread. Crusty, well seasoned rye toast becomes the perfect landing place for a heavy smear of a simple black olive tapenade, but the best part of this dish is its versatility.
Olive toasts are not only delicious all by themselves, they make a great appetizer, to be served with sliced aged cheeses and robust wine. The tapenade alone can be the topping for an omelet (or spooned onto a hard boiled egg), or mixed into a vinaigrette… Or as the glue for a sandwich with roasted veggies and feta. When you have a powerful ingredient like olives on your side, there is no end to the uses of this food.
When a dish is comprised of only a few select ingredients, it is important to make them the best you can find. A bread and dip hors d’oeuvre calls for the best bread. Olive tapenade needs the best olives (or combination of olives.) The flavor of the olive oil should be fruity and rich. The parmesan should be savory and sharp.
It won’t be hard to gather all these things, and when you have, the dish comes together with the spin of a food processor (or mashing in a mortar and pestle) and the toasting of a warm oven. You and those who share it will love this dish, and want you to bring it back to future potlucks, Thanksgiving dinners, or just lunches for two.
You will find the right olives. Check out the Mediterranean counter in your grocer, and sample a few. Leave the overly herbed and spiced olives to other dishes; for olive toasts only a simple, salty, briny olive will do. I chose black olives, you may better like green. Whichever one tastes good on the first bite, and leaves you wanting another is the right olive for you. Choose pitted olives that have no stuffings or trimmings; it saves you work in the long run.
I am completely indebted to Tamar Adler, writer of An Everlasting Meal, for turning me in the direction of cooking and thinking in ways that makes food like this. Her knowledge has become mine too.
Olives are pinnacle ingredients in the culinary world; older than any written language, and a source of wealth for many ancient cultures. The oil of olives has been used to anoint kings and bless the infirm. An olive branch, the symbol of peace, shows prominently on the seal of the United States, along with thirteen olives– representing our thirteen initial colonies and the Anglo-Saxon heritage of our nation. The leaves and branches of olive trees were used to crown the victors of wars and athletic games. The trees still bear fruit after hundreds–some speculated over a thousand years old, with contorted branches and trunks that reshoot in the places where a piece was chopped down.
Olives are amazing food. They are reminders of a simpler time when grains, oils, and wine were highly regarded staples of life. They need nothing than a few accompanying flavors to make a complete, wholesome meal.
You will need:
- 2 1/2 cups good olives
- 3 cloves garlic
- salt and pepper
- heavy squeeze lemon juice
- zest of half a lemon (or more depending on your taste)
- heavy handful fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup-1/2 cup olive oil
- 1-2 tbs parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 loaf hearty bread (I used jewish rye, baguette or sourdough would do nicely too)
Directions: Slice bread, rub with a sliced clove of garlic, drizzle with oil, and bake on 400 degrees until browned and crispy, about 20 minutes. In a food processor, or in a mortar and pestle, crush together olives, lemon juice, parsley, salt, zest, pepper, and a little olive oil. As the texture of the tapenade comes together, add more or less oil, depending on what texture you desire. Some like chunkier tapenade, others smooth. Sprinkle the bread with cheese, and toast to melt. Serve family style, so that people may spread their toasts as thick or thin as desired.