The entertaining season is upon us. Olives are an easy appetizer for your guests to nibble on. For sure, not everyone loves these stone fruits. Yours truly was one of them! When I was a kid no matter how often I sampled a green olive served in a tomato sauce, the taste always made me cringe (more like shudder!). I carried that memory for a long time, abstaining from anything that looked like an olive. However, twenty-odd years ago I was introduced to kalamata olives. And, boom, an olive I could enjoy! Thinking back, the olives I grew up with were packed in a jar, sliced and tasted so salty and bitter. I never buy any olives that have had their stones removed. When the stone/seed is removed, the unprotected pulp of the fruit is in direct contact with the brine liquid thereby reducing the flavour.
So, where to begin? There are 139 olive varieties in the world grown in 23 countries. To make it easier, begin with the countries of the Mediterranean (Spain, Italy, Greece, France). The olives from these countries are easily available from local speciality shops in your area and the staff can guide you according to taste. Once you have picked a few, use my recipe to enhance the flavours of the olives. Warmed olives with herbs and spices take on a new texture and taste. Marinating in warmed olive oil softens any hard olives leaving them plump and juicy.
you will need
2 cups mixed olives – I used a Mediterranean blend (colourful presentation)
1/2 cup olive oil (more if you like)
2 garlic cloves, thickly sliced
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes (more if you it spicy)
zest of 1 lemon
3 to 4 rosemary sprigs
Grab a small frying pan and add olive oil. Place over low heat until the oil has warmed. Add garlic, fennel seeds, chili flakes and lemon zest. Gently mix. You want the aromatics to scent the air while not browning the garlic. Add the olives and stir the mixture. When the olives are completely heated through, remove the pan from heat. Serve immediately or allow to cool for five or so minutes. To serve, place olive mixture in a dish and place fresh bread around it (dunking the bread in the marinated oil…so delectable!). Don’t be afraid to eat the garlic, too. As it heats in the oil, it becomes soft and so delicious. *Make this ahead of time and gently reheat before your company arrives.*
the culinary chase’s note:
Use this recipe as a guide. Add bay leaves (instead of fennel seeds), smoked paprika (instead of chili pepper flakes), fresh thyme, and orange zest. Enjoy!