Cooking, Food and Drink, Recipes

Food and Drink Post: Olive Me

I don’t really like olives all that much. But I adore the idea of olives. And olive groves. And the Mediterranean. The stories by Peter Mayle and Carol Drinkwater. The presence of olive trees, olive oil, olive wood, and of course “olive branches” in our mythological, literary and cultural traditions. And the history of an ancient industry that has survived, in many cases relatively unchanged, for thousands of years.

The idea of olives is so very different from my own rather pedestrian life at the moment. The idea of olives is beautiful, and soft and sunny and warm. (Important as I write this because, Autumn is coming early this year: Gobs of leaves are falling from the trees, and I can’t sweep them up fast enough on the brick patio.  And this morning, there’s a distinct chill in the air, a foretaste of things to come.  (I knew I should never have taken the Christmas tree down; almost time to put it up again….) So I’m thinking about temperate breezes from warmer climes, and the joys of olive farming.

Sorry about the music, approximately seven minutes:

There are, apparently, over 600 varieties of olives, and each of them is unique both in texture and flavor, and much affected by the soil, climate and altitude in which it grows. Olives are harvested at varying stages of ripeness: green-ripe, all the way through black-ripe. Because olives right from the tree are almost inedible, they must be cured before being eaten, a process which is done by fermenting, soaking, salting or drying, or some combination thereof, and all of which must be done before the olives arrive in jars, or cans, or fresh at the salad bar at your local market.

I think about an gnarly ancient, pulling down the tempting-looking little fruits from the trees and sampling one, spitting it out, and thinking “Ugh. What can I do to make these sour little lumps edible? I know! Lye! I’ll soak them in Lye!” I mean, really. Who thinks that way? Someone must have, I guess. Wonder how many people died before they got it right, though.

Although I don’t like my olives “neat,” I sometimes like them “in” things, and one of those things is Tapenade, an olive spread that works as a dip, or a spread on crackers or toast:

1 1/2 cups brine cured olives (be very sure all of the pits have been removed)
2 anchovy fillets, squashed with a fork
1 1/2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper (I usually don’t add any more salt, because between the olives and the anchovies and the capers, there’s plenty)
4 tablespoons olive oil

Blitz everything except the olive oil gently (use the “pulse” rather than the “on” function) in a food processor till chopped (you don’t want it like hummus, you want some texture)

Drizzle in the olive oil and pulse a couple more times.

Refrigerate if you’re not going to eat it right away. But let it warm to room temperature before enjoying.

Do you like olives? What kinds of olives? Stuffed or plain? Brined or in oil? Fresh or dried? How about olive oil? Which, in your opinion, is the nicest or the best, and what region of the world does it come from? (I think the best olive oil I’ve ever tasted came from Israel, with olive oil from Crete a close second.)

And what, besides the obvious, do you do with olives in your food and drink? Recipes welcome.

5 thoughts on “Food and Drink Post: Olive Me”

  1. Pot roast. Don’t have a set recipe per se, but you can add a lovely rich sour bite to a pot roast (especially in a slow cooker) by tossing in some chopped up olives, some red wine, horseradish, and pickle relish (along with the usual onions, garlic, and root vegetables). Let it go on low for a good 8ish hours, and you’ve got a perfect evening meal for cool fall evenings.

    1. That sounds brilliant. Consider it stolen. Cool fall evenings seem to be upon us. I can’t sweep the leaves away fast enough. Last year, I think the leaves dropped early because it was an incredibly dry and hot summer. This year, other than a bit of a drought in July, we’ve had tons of rain. I just think it’s going to be an early Fall.

      1. I remembered another easy olive dish – though I forget its name. And I rarely make it since I’m about the only one in the house who really likes olives enough. But it’s quite simple – toss freshly cooked (still hot) al dente fettuccine, chopped olives, some capers to taste, and parmesan cheese (the real stuff, not the powder, if you can get it), sun-dried tomatoes, and parsley, with a couple of table-spoons of olive oil, and serve up. It makes for lighter fare than the heavier bolognese or cream sauces typical for pasta.

        We seem to be heading into an early fall here too, though August for us was unusually quite dry, even as June and July were soaking with rain. By the time we finally got some good rains over Labor Day weekend, the ground had gotten very hard, the black walnuts were dropping leaves, and the maples were already turning color. We’ve had some good rains since last weekend, but it looks like things are drying back out as the temps will rise back into the mid 80s next week.

  2. Olive oil is a magic ingredient for preparing meats. Coat any cut of meat, poultry or fish olive oil before roasting or broiling it. The oil seals the moisture inside, resulting in a more tender and flavorful result.

    1. Yes, it really does. One of my favorites is a salmon fillet coated in olive oil and then a bit of salt and a (rather large) sprinkling of coarsely-ground pepper. It can then be broiled or (quickest and easiest, cooked in a skillet on top of the stove over a medium heat.

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