Wednesday, September 29, 2010

a tapenade tribute to zia - recipe: zia maria's olive tapenade

David and I recently received an invitation to his incredibly sweet, Zia (Aunt) Maria’s 75th birthday party. Unfortunately, the party was over a thousand kilometres away in Thunder Bay.

However, along with the invitation, Maria’s daughter, Gabriella, sent some great photos and a request that those who could not attend the celebration share a memory or two of Zia.

It will come as no surprise to the regular readers of my column that most of my memories involve food! Maria is an amazing cook — I’ve written about her before — and we definitely bonded over our love of the kitchen.

Maria has an “old-school” cold room. Growing up, our family’s cold cellar was mainly used for pop, beer, canned goods and perhaps a few jars of pickles or chili sauce that someone had made for us.

I think that my jaw literally dropped when I walked into Zia’s cold room for the first time. It was full of large jugs of homemade wine, vinegars, jams, preserved vegetables, fruit, tomato sauce, hanging prosciutto and the like. I was in heaven — in fact, no trip to Thunder Bay is complete without a walk through what I like to call the “food shrine”.

I have many special memories of Zia and our time together but there are two that stand out in my mind — the first is the day last summer, when she met John for the first time. We spent the day in her backyard.

She has the vegetable garden of my dreams! We watched John run around and stuff himself with her freshly harvested raspberries and peas.

The second memory goes back a few years, to when Zia and I spent the day in her kitchen together. We used her second kitchen, located in the basement of her house. Zia and I spent the day preserving jars of food.

We made a few different items, but the one that brought the biggest smile to my husband David’s face was Zia Maria’s famous olive tapenade. We can never leave Thunder Bay without at least one jar of it, and I was thrilled to have the recipe in my hands after our day together.

This tapenade is great on crackers, flatbread or a sandwich. One of David’s favourite snacks is a fried egg on a toasted sesame seed bagel (ideally from City Cafe) topped with this tapenade and a splash of hot sauce.

zia maria's olive tapenade


  • one 375-ml jar of pitted black olives
  • one 375-ml jar of pitted green olives
  • one 14-oz can of artichoke hearts in water, well drained
  • one 375-ml jar of roasted red peppers, well drained
  • 1/2 tin of anchovies in oil
    (use a couple tablespoons of anchovy paste if you're a bit leery)
  • two or three cloves of garlic
  • peeled fresh parsley, to taste (I use about half a cup)
  • fresh basil, to taste (I use about half a cup)


  • Add all ingredients into the bowl of a cusinart and mix/pulse to desired texture (pulse longer for a smooth texture, shorter for a chunky texture).
  • This will keep for a few weeks in the fridge.
  • Serve a la David on bagels, or spread onto baguette slices, top with some goat cheese or mozzarella and bake in a 350F oven until hot and cheese is melted. Also good on pasta — just add some olive oil to thin it out a bit.

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