The Provence region in southern France is famous for its cuisine. This beautiful and sometimes harsh environment backs up to the sea where fresh seafood can be caught daily, olive tree orchards line the hills and the rocky soil produces what is assuredly some of the most fragrant herbs and spices in the world in an ecoregion called La Garrigue. Rosemary, thyme and savory all call this place home.
I went crazy for tapenades while I was in France this spring.
Tapenades are a staple hors d’oeuvres or snack. The basic ingredients are olives, olive oil, garlic, capers, anchovies and lots of herbs. This is whipped up into a spread and can be enjoyed on bread, crackers, meats and veggies.
One day while eating our latest tapenade find, my mother-in-law asked me if tapenades were good for the heart. I hadn’t really considered that as, up until that moment, I had simply been eating them out of pleasure. I picked up the jar to look at the ingredients and it dawned on me that this mixture wasn’t just good for the heart. It was like a superfood for the heart!
I knew I would be making our own tapenades when we got back to our little cabin in the woods and I am excited to share this with you too.
But before we get to the tapenade recipe, let’s take a closer look at the amazing benefits of these ingredients for heart health as well as cancer prevention.
Olives and Olive Oil
Olives and their oil have long been a staple of the human diet in the Mediterranean region. The Mediterranean diet, which is famously high in olive oil, has been shown in numerous studies to dramatically support heart health and reduce risks of heart attack or stroke.
Here’s a review of some of the findings.
Olive oil and the Mediterranean diet supports healthy cholesterol by reducing oxidative damage to LDL particles; it reduces risks of periphery artery disease, decreases high blood pressure and reduces inflammation associated with cardiovascular disease. That is some mega heart-health benefit!
Greeks are the highest consumers of olive oil worldwide and they also have a significantly lower risk for heart disease. It’s estimated that Greek people consume an average of 24 liters (roughly 6 gallons) of olive oil a year!
My husband and I do roughly the same amount. Every fall we order 10 gallons of olive oil from a family farm in California. The olive oil is shipped in February just as we are finishing up the last year’s batch.
When buying olive oil you want to get extra virgin olive oil from a very reputable source. The better your olive oil the better your tapenade will taste and the better it will be for your health! Store your olive oil away from heat and light.
Recently olive oil fraud has made the headlines. An astonishing amount of extra virgin olive oil has been adulterated with cheaper forms of olive oil. Buying it directly from farmers in California can ensure you are getting the best olive oil for your family.
When choosing olives for your tapenade you also want to get high quality olives. I would avoid the black canned olives that most in the U.S. are used to eating. Instead, look for niçoise olives or green olives. Save yourself a lot of time by buying pitted olives. When I make this recipe I use 1 cup of niçoise olives and 1 cup of green olives.
If garlic is famous for one thing then it may be for causing bad breath.
But number one on its list of attributes is its affinity for heart health. Numerous studies have shown garlic to support healthy cholesterol levels, reduce blood clots and reduce hypertension.
Honestly, I used to think anchovies were a joke. I’m not kidding. My only reference to them were a smelly ingredient on Michelangelo’s pizza (yes I am referring to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). One day when ordering pizza my husband suggested we get anchovies and I laughed. He wasn’t kidding.
Now I am an anchovy convert. If you already love anchovies you know what I mean. If you don’t love anchovies I hope you’ll give them a try. Anchovies basically taste salty. There’s not much to dislike (unless you don’t like salty things).
Anchovies are an amazing source of omega 3 oils, which are essential to heart health. They are also packed with calcium and magnesium, which can support healthy bones as well as the heart. Many people take fish oil supplements to support their heart health but getting it straight from the source is always better. Anchovies are one of the best ways to do this.
For this recipe, I buy anchovies in jars that have been preserved in olive oil.
Tomatoes keep grabbing the headlines due to numerous studies showing that these high lycopene foods can prevent various types of cancer, notably prostate cancer. To get the most cancer prevention properties from these fruits they need to be well cooked. For this recipe, I use roasted tomatoes that are preserved in olive oil. You can make these yourself or buy them at the store.
Rosemary and Thyme
Most people think of lavender when they think of an herbal Provence, but I think of all that rosemary and thyme growing abundantly in that rocky dry soil. Rosemary has been especially lauded for its ability to support heart health and to decrease excessive inflammation in the body. It’s also been shown to support mental health and reduce risks of Alzheimer’s disease.
Rosemary Tapenade Recipe
This tapenade recipe is one of thousands of variations. The result is a savory and salty spread that can be served before the meal or alongside it. When consumed regularly this tapenade can support a healthy heart and cardiovascular system. This yields 1.5 cups.
What you’ll need…
- 2 cups of olives (see notes above on what kinds of olives to use)
- 1 Tablespoon capers
- 2 anchovy filets
- 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/8 cup roasted tomatoes
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 3 Tablespoons minced fresh rosemary and thyme
- 2 Tablespoons of olive oil (roughly)
Assemble all of the ingredients with the exception of the olive oil and place them in a food processor or blender. Process until throughly mixed and the olives are broken into small, but definable chunks.
Slowly add the olive oil. It’s easy to over do it with the olive oil. It won’t be disastrous if you add too much; your mixture will just have excess oil around the edges.
Voila! Simple as that. You can serve this with bread, crackers, or even on veggies or meats. It will keep in the fridge for about a week.