There must be 50 ways to use your olive …
“Happiness is … finding two olives in your martini when you’re hungry.” —Johnny Carson
The olive, a savory and versatile gem, adds nourishment to a dry martini, dials up an antipasto plate, makes a great holder for pimentos, defines a Greek salad, tops a pizza with Mediterranean panache, and is pressed into the most exquisite, golden, heart- healthy juice – olive oil.
In the Beginning …
The olive has been hanging around since prehistoric times when it was cultivated in Asia Minor, and from there it went viral, spreading globally. The calming properties of the noble olive made it a symbol of peace by ancient peoples.
Early Middle Eastern civilizations believed the lofty fruit had curative powers for everything but old age, and to this day, olive-philes chug down a half-cup of olive oil at breakfast to lube the body’s moving parts. Thanks to Franciscan missionaries who planted Mexican seeds in San Diego, circa 1769, southern California has been blessed with a bounty of more than 35 species of “Mission olives.”
Green the New Black
The olive tree has Methuselah longevity – the oldest one is living in Crete, celebrating its 5,000th birthday, while the average lifespan is 500 years. The evergreen bears fruit in its fifth year, and with proper care, continues for another 45 years. Olives can be picked at varying stages of ripeness — green ones are unripe, purple and red semi-ripe, and black ones fully ripe.
The olive is a high-maintenance fruit, requiring several processes before entering a can or jar. Olives must be treated to extract the motherload of glucoside oleuropein that makes them naturally bitter.
They are first separated into size and color groups, soaked in a lye or lime-wood ash bath, and then cured in a wet, salty brine, a dry salt, or an oil base. They’re finally pitted, stuffed with pimentos, garlic or jalapenos (or left intact), then packed with olive oil or vinegar, and assorted herbs and spices.
Purplish hued, brine-cured Kalamata olives are used in Greek salads. The Nicoise are sour, salty, reddish brown olives. Small, pointy-shaped Picholines from southern France have a fruity essence. Bright green giants, sweet with meaty flesh, are grown along the Adriatic Coast of Italy, and large Queens and the smaller Manzanillos, come from Spain.
Salty Little Superfruit
This low-carb, high-protein king of the fruits is packed with heart-healthy monosaturates; cancer-busting, anti-inflammatory polyphenols; de-stressing B-6, libido- boosting zinc; copper to sharpen enzymes’ activities; lutein to put the skids on macular degeneration; antioxidant Vitamin E; and beta cryptoxanthin, a protectant against free radicals. The olive contains 20-percent oil, but is surprisingly low in calories and fat: 10 medium black olives = 50 calories, 4 grams of fat.
Tid-pit of Advice
Pitted olives occasionally contain pit segments left behind from the mechanical processing. These jagged remnants can break a tooth or scratch other masticating parts. Best to buy olives with the pits intact and remove them your self.
• For savory appetizers: Stuff some colossal beauties with feta or cream cheese. Dip your veggies in a green olive-Caesar dip. Smear an olive-pear spread on your seedy baguette. Bake pimento-olive scones or an olive and sun-dried tomato sourdough. Toss a Cobb, citrus, calamari or warm wilted spinach salad with a confetti of green, reddish and black olives.
• For the main attraction: Make a green olive pesto over pappardelle ribbons; serve Mediterranean chicken with an olive and dried fruit vinaigrette; or create a roasted red pepper and olive salsa over grilled fish. Toss a colorful trio in Israeli couscous, saffron basmati rice or red quinoa.
• For dessert: Bake a meringue Meyer lemon cake with olive brittle, or a killer dark chocolate soufflé with candied Kalamatas.
Tangy Olive Tapenade
Unlike Johnny, my idea of happiness is a zippy olive tapenade to excite sandwiches, jazz up pastas, or spread on toasted garlic rounds for a twist on tomato-basil bruschetta.
1/2 pound assorted olives, pits removed
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons capers
3 basil leaves
Half a fire-roasted red pepper
1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Method: Rinse the olives then add the ingredients to a food processor. Coarsely chop. Refrigerate. Enjoy.
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