Basil olive tapenade with potato, pasta, green beans and caperberries

Our two month sojourn through Europe taught me a lot – how liberating it is to only own three outfits, how thrilling it is to defy your comfort zones, how special it is to discover the world through little sets of eyes, and the simple joys of talking to your kids, without the disruption of screens and toys.

After what feels like the longest time, our family is finally laying down some roots in Brooklyn, NY. Three weeks in, we have found a home, accepted our sea freight of home comforts, and got the kids into our local school. That’s the most of it! We are yet to fully furnish our rather lovely new apartment in brownstone Carroll Gardens, and there are still way too many books scattered on the floor, but there is a palpable excitement about this little adventure we have chosen.

I’m now reunited with my kitchen gear from home. I have been slowly finding my way in my new kitchen. It doesn’t quite feel like mine yet; I don’t possess the instinctive movement you possess when you fully inhabit your kitchen, but I’m enjoying getting to know my new workspace. The other day, I was washing the dishes, gazing out at the snow-filled yard, and a squirrel scurried right up to the window – now that’s something I don’t see in Surry Hills. Its not the same, but that doesn’t mean its not still great. This kitchen and I are ready for some fun times together.

One of the kitchen essentials I missed most while traveling was my mortar and pestle. Despite my very constant devotion to my Magimix for making pastes and sauces, I just adore the simplicity and cleverness of humble Pestle and his robust friend Mortar. It just gets the job done. If you don't already own one, don't be tempted to spend lots of money on one - I purchased mine years and years ago from an Asian grocery store for only $25 (AUD). 

This week, always thinking of kid-friendly salad ideas, I was on my way to making a classic Genovese salad – pasta and potato with basil pesto – when some wrinkly Moroccan olives took me on a tasty diversion. What started as a basil pesto soon morphed into a basil-scented olive tapenade. This salad is heavy on the starch, but it’s great comfort food for the whole family.

Basil olive tapenade with potato, pasta, green beans and caperberries

I used some pretty fingerling potatoes called Confetti Pee Wee but I encourage you to use whatever potatoes you have on hand. Kiplers or Dutch Creams are favourites of mine, but even chat potatoes would work just fine. Also, use your favourite, sauce-catching pasta shape.

| Serves 4-6 |

  • 700g potatoes, peeled and halved
  • 500g pasta
  • 200g green beans, trimmed
  • ½ cup (tightly packed) flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup sunflower seeds, toasted
  • 1/3 cup caperberries (or capers), stems removed
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and black pepper

Basil Olive Tapenade

  • 2 cups (tightly packed) basil leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic,
  • ½ cup black olives (preferably wrinkly ones) pittedSea salt and black pepper
  • ½ cup walnuts, toasted
  • 3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp white wine vinegar
  • Sea salt and black pepper


You will need to make the tapenade first (so it is ready to add to the warm potatoes and pasta!). Place the garlic in a mortar and sprinkle over a pinch of sea salt. Grind until you have a paste. Add the basil and pound until the leaves have broken down. Then add the olives and walnuts, and pound again until you get a thick paste. Stir in the olive oil, vinegar and season with some black pepper. Taste, and add another pinch of salt if needed. If you like, you can throw all these ingredients into a food processor and blitz away.

Bring a pot of water to the boil and add a big pinch of salt. Put the potatoes in and cook until they are just tender. The exact cooking time will depend on the size and variety of your potatoes, so keep an eye out on them. You don’t want them so soft that they are breaking apart. When ready, drain.

At the same time as the potatoes are cooking, bring another pot of water to the boil. Salt the water well, and then add the pasta. Cook until al dente. Drain and run under some water just quickly to remove the starchy water. You don’t want the pasta cold though so do this quickly. Combine the warm pasta with the warm potatoes.

In a medium fry pan, add a splash of olive oil and add the halved green beans to the pan. Pan fry until the beans have turned a bright green colour and have begun to char slightly. You want them just tender. When ready, add the beans to the potatoes and pasta.

Add the tapenade to the pasta, potatoes and beans and stir well to coat everything in the paste. Add the caper berries and another swirl of extra virgin olive oil. Scatter over the sunflower seeds and parsley and serve.

SALADHetty McKinnon