Olives. Anywhere, Any Time!

To say that I like olives would be a gross understatement. I love them so much that, like goat cheese, I might even suggest that olives should become their own food group. Come to think of it, olives and goat cheese have a lot in common. For one thing, they’re both kind of tangy. But that’s beside the point.

Olives are actually a fruit. For centuries – millennia really – they have been a dietary mainstay throughout the Middle East. Before curing, olives are characteristically bitter. Their flavor is tamed and refined through the curing process, which might mean brining, air curing, oil curing, or sun curing, depending on the olive and the area it’s from. The process may take months or even years, and the flavor that results depends on the method used

There is a lot more to the olive “story” than the canned black or sliced green salad versions we find stocked on grocery store shelves. There are probably more kinds of olives in the marketplace than we count. A few of the more popular varieties include the small, salty, black Mediterranean versions like Nicoise and Kalamata and the brined green Spanish Manzanilla with its slightly smoky, almond taste. Then there are the Cerignola and Castelvetrano from Italy, both of which are large, bright and fresh looking, and have a milder flavor than many others. My favorite olives are the Manzanilla and Castelvetrano.

You can find great versions at your local specialty food stores. Some stores have beautiful olive bars stocked with anything from olive medleys to olives stuffed with things like blue cheese, garlic, anchovies or almonds. (My friends have come to expect me to have a variety of the stuffed olives on hand when they come for cocktails.)

Olives are a simple way to add flavor, color, and texture to any culinary “event,” from appetizers and sandwiches, right on through the main course. I use a variety of them to make Tapendade, one of my Signature recipes that I try to keep on hand for unexpected guests, or to take as an appetizer when invited spontaneously for cocktails. I usually serve Tapenade with croustini or parmesan crackers, which I keep stocked in the pantry.

Sometimes I also use Green Olive Tapenade in sauces. Occasionally I add some to Chicken Picatta for a little boost of flavor and texture. And it makes a great base for the sauce for Swiss Olive Burgers. I blend some of the Tapenade into a dish of mayonnaise and olive oil, then slice more olives into the sauce for even more flavor and substance.

One of my favorite dishes is penne pasta with Puttanesca sauce. While you can certainly add some chicken to your sauce, it’s the olives that are the star of this show. It makes a great side dish, but if you’re craving something light and simple, it makes a perfect main course.

You can even serve olives for breakfast.

(I have a very dear friend from the Middle East who started each day with goat cheese, olives, and pita bread. He lived to be 97 years old!) Olives also add a beautiful touch to quiches and omelets, no matter where or when you’re planning to serve them.

I encourage you, as a Home Chef, to get acquainted with the olive. Like me, you may end up making them some of your best friends in the kitchen! They’ll add flavor – and simplicity – to your life. And once your friends have sampled some of your olive creations, they’ll thank you and singing your praises all over town.

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