Marjoram Sauce with Capers & Green Olives Recipe

Pungent, herby, and assertive, this is an incredibly versatile sauce. From Deborah Madison's new book, Vegetable Literacy, it's made with pounded capers, walnuts, green olives, and a load of herbs - the perfect slather for everything from sandwiches and pasta to egg salad and vegetables.

Marjoram Sauce with Capers & Green Olives

I spend time with a lot of cookbooks. Some I like for the author's voice, or their cooking palette. Others have beautiful photography or styling. Some of my favorites capture a sense of place and time. There are a lot of good books being produced right now, and a rich range of perspectives reflected. It's great. That said, there aren't many books that completely challenge me to think about my own cooking from an unexpected angle. Deborah Madison's forthcoming book Vegetable Literacy, is an exception. I spent a stretch of time with it before it went to the printer, and I suspect it will be one of the most influential cookbooks published this year.

Marjoram SauceMarjoram Sauce

Deborah's new book explores the relationships between vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers within the same botanical families. So, for example, if you understand that buckwheat, rhubarb, and sorrel are all part of the Knotweed family, it might impact how you consider use them. Ingredients I may regularly use in combination, purely on instinct, might have a natural affinity for each other through their botanical relationship. Understanding these relationships directly impacts how you think about using these ingredients. And it's a lot of fun to think about.

After spending some time with Vegetable Literacy, I wrote an endorsement for the back cover, doing my best to sum up what an incredible book it is. It went like this..."There are few people equipped with the curiosity, skill, and eye for observation required to construct a volume of this size and scope - and Deborah does it masterfully. Vegetable Literacy will shift the way both home and professional cooks think about the relationship between ingredients, and vegetables in particular. Using this book has felt like a missing puzzle piece snapping into place - inspiring, intimate, informative, and beautifully illustrated."

Marjoram Sauce

More than anything, I wanted to give you the heads up about the book, it will be out in the coming weeks, and I suspect/hope many of you will find it as interesting as I have. Recipes? This thick marjoram sauce recipe immediately popped off the pages at me (and has become a fast favorite)...It's great for slathering, spreading, and mixing in. Pungent, herby, and assertive, it's made with pounded capers, walnuts, green olives, and a load of herbs - my photos don't do it justice. Give it a try - really. You must. It's great with pasta, worked into egg or potato salad, spread on bruschetta or sandwiches, or tossed with roasted or sauteed vegetables. I even topped a frittata with it - A+.

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Marjoram Sauce with Capers & Green Olives

HS note: I used Castelvetrano olives. Look for any good, not canned, green olives - Whole Foods typically has a good olive selection near the salad bar. Or an Italian deli might be another option.

1 thick slice country bread, crust removed
2 tablespoons aged red vine vinegar
1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/3 cup / 1/4 oz / 8 g marjoram leaves
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed
1/2 cups / 1 1/2 oz / 45 g pine nuts or walnuts
1 cup / 1 1/4 oz / 35 g finely chopped parsley
10 pitted green olives
1/2 cup / 120 ml olive oil

Place the bread on a plate and sprinkle the vinegar over it. Pound the garlic with the salt in a mortar until smooth, then, one at a time, work in the marjoram, capers, nuts, parsley, and olives. Pound until the mixture has the texture of a coarse puree. Add the bread, then the olive oil and work all the ingredients together until the sauce comes together. Season with pepper, then taste for vinegar and salt, adding the smallest bit more if needed. If you like a looser sauce, thin with a bit more oil. It will keep refrigerated for a few days.

Makes about 1 cup.

Adapted from Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison. To be published March 12, 2013.

Prep time: 10 minutes

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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Deborah Madison is always more than worth reading, so I'm super excited to hear about her new book! Especially considering the amazing-sounding premise. Marjoram sauce--who would have thought?


Oh this sounds wonderful! I've grown marjoram for years in my herb garden but never found many recipes calling for it. I will be trying this. I can almost taste it on a good rye cracker with a speck of cheese or smeared on thinly sliced French bread! Yum! Can't wait to see this book!


I can almost smell this from the photos! What a wonderful thought here in the middle of winter. Thank you. I'll look for the book.


I use this on roasted beets (it was a recipe in Deborah's book Local Flavors), and it is one of my ALL TIME favorites!! It also is great as a salad dressing, just add a bit more olive oil.


Thank you for sharing this. It went straight onto my wishlist!


Sounds like a fantastic read and that sauce has gone in my wish list to prep soon!


I'm with Annie and Mike. Could we have a few suggestions on how to use this sauce? Of course, pasta... but what else? Thanks. It sounds delicious and I have tons of marjoram in the garden.

HS: Hi Carol - I had it slathered on a frittata, on bruschetta, mixed into brown rice.....great as a component in egg salad. Really, it's hard to go wrong with this one.

Carol Wheeler

Ha--I just bought marjoram yesterday to use in Deborah Madison's recipe for a roasted red pepper soup, with the intention of finding other recipes to experiment with in order to use up the rest of the herb. Perfect timing! This sounds delicious.


The sauce looks wonderful. And, thanks so much for the heads-up on Deborah's book.

Kelly Turnbull

Lucky you to get such pre-published time to soak in such a fascinating book! I love Deborah Madison, for her obvious brilliance, but also because I buy olive oil from her brother (Mike Madison) and his wife at the Davis Farmers' Market! Such a lovely small world. Will be getting this as soon as possible. Thanks!


Very exciting post. I love marjoram. There is something so fragrant and almost perfumed about it. I am very much looking forward to this new cookbook. Sounds inspiring!

Aleksandra Peyrer-Navijalic

sounds like a mix between a pesto and a tapenade, yum!


You always highlight lovely books. Your photographs make this post so beautiful and appealing. I look forward to purchasing Vegetable Literacy.

I went to CAL in the early 80's and my roommates and I would take Bart into the city and eat at Greens. I loved it then and I still love Deborah Madison. So excited to hear she has another book on the horizon!


I am so looking forward to this book! Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone has become a bible of sorts in my kitchen, even though we're not vegetarian. It's well written, and there's certainly something for everyone in it. I can't wait to see what the new book brings.

Anne @ Webicurean

I was fortunate to have a demo cooking class from Deborah over 10 years ago. I was already a big admirer of hers. Her sense of taste and ability with vegetarian food would be difficult to surpass. Her books are all amazing. I could not be without Vegetarian Cooking. Thanks for the heads up, I just pre-ordered it!


I have this on preorder, thanks for the delicious preview! Wonderful title and concept, am very much looking forward to its arrival. In the meantime, this seems a terrific way of using one of my very favorite of herbs.

diary of a tomato

Sounds like a fascinating book. And I love the sound of this sauce. Marjoram is one herb I'd like to try to use more and this looks worth it!

Abbe@This is How I Cook

Sounds totally DELIGHTFUL!


I like a book that gives ideas along with instruction - looks like a keeper. So, here in NOLA in grocery stores they sell olive salad, which is olives chopped up a bit with a little of other things, some herbs and lots of olive oil. Many keep a jar in the 'frig. I'm thinking it'd be okay to sub it for the olives and olive oil. You think so?


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