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Tapenade is a Provençal name for a dish consisting of puréed or finely-chopped olives, capers, and anchovies. Its name comes from the Provençal word for capers, tapenas. It is a popular food in the south of France, where it generally is eaten as an hors d'œuvre spread on bread, but sometimes it is used to stuff poultry for a main course.
Olive-based dishes with anchovies or vinegar are ubiquitous in Italian cuisine, documented in ancient Roman cookbooks dating back more than a thousand years before the appearance of the Occitan word tapenade. One of the earliest known of such Italian recipes, Olivarum conditurae, appears in Columella's De re Rustica written in the first century AD. Cato the Elder (234–149 B.C.) also includes a recipe for epityrum, an olive spread very much like a tapenade, in chapter 119 of his On Agriculture. The use of capers is the hallmark of recipes for tapenade.
Sometimes tapenade is confused with New Orleans olive salad, a critical component in the New Orleans sandwich the muffaletta. New Orleans olive salad is more properly called a giardiniera. It also does not contain capers, but does contain cauliflower, carrots, and celery.