Olive

Olive

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Encyclopedia of Food and Cookery

The fruit of the olive tree, which is a native of the Mediterranean, where so many people depend on its oil for a living. So it is only natural that olives and olive oil are the foundation of Mediterranean cooking. The fruit of the olive tree is either black (the ripe fruit) or green (the immature fruit). Black olives are picked ripe and are full-flavoured and mellow, while green ones are picked immature and are firm and tangy. They are often pickled and stuffed with pimiento or anchovy.

Olives are used in sauces, stuffings and salads as well as for garnishes. They add colour to a Neapolitan pizza and flavour to those wondrous Mediterranean stews which simmer away for hours on top of the stove. Stop at any little café or bar around the Mediterranean and you are likely to be offered a plate of hors d’oeuvre – black and green olives, local salami, cheese and some crisp vegetables. Olives have an interesting salty flavour which seems to complement aperitifs better than anything else. Serve them alone or with cubes of cheese, preferably crumbly Greek feta cheese obtainable from Continental delicatessens.

Olives from various countries differ in shape and flavour. In good Continental delicatessens, you can find olives from Greece – mottled, fat and round and stored in olive oil – inky-black Kalamata olives, with sharp pointed ends, and green olives, small and very salty. Black olives from Spain are large and ripe and their green olives are very firm with large stones. Sometimes you find enormous olives called Spanish or Queen olives, which are excellent for stuffing with a little pimiento mixed with capers, anchovies or almonds. Very good olives grow in California, South Australia and elsewhere along the banks of the Murray River.

Olive oil is produced from small olives which are not considered good eating, and its flavour varies with each grove. Some oils are delicate with a pure flavour, others extremely fruity and some so refined they are almost tasteless. The olive oils of Italy, France, Spain, Greece, and, more recently, Australia vary enormously in quality and taste. It is simply a matter of preference and how it is to be used. It’s worth experimenting to find one you’re happy with – it can make so much difference to your cooking, marinades, salads, mayonnaise and dressings.

It is difficult to describe the different tastes of olive oil. However, here are a few generalisations:

Olive oil ranges in colour from a pale straw yellow to the dark green virgin oil.

Olive oil ranges in taste from the French style of fruity and light to the Italian oils, which are usually heavier and more complex.

Olive oil is usually described as having a light or heavy feel in the mouth.

When it comes to cooking you will learn to use different oils for different dishes. Choose a light olive oil for a dish of subtle flavour and an extra virgin olive oil for more robust flavour. The true extra virgin olive oil is cold-pressed from quality fruit, picked at the ‘just ripe’ stage. Whenever possible add at just the last moment, even to hot dishes, to ensure its flavour is maintained.

Always store olive oil in a cool, dark place, not in the refrigerator.

See also Tapenade.

To store black olives: The best way is in a sterilised jar with olive oil to cover. A strip of lemon peel, a sprig of oregano or some garlic cloves and a chilli may be placed in the jar as well to give a subtle flavour. (For sterilising jars see Jams.)

Herbed Olives: Put 1 small red chilli, 1 clove garlic, 1 sprig fresh dill and 2 tablespoons olive oil over 500 g black olives in a jar. Cover and marinate for at least 2 days.

Garlic Olives: Put 500 g olives into a jar with 2–3 cloves garlic, lightly crushed. Cover with olive oil and allow to stand at least 2 days.

Marinated Olives: Put 500 g black olives into a jar and pour over a mixture of 3 parts olive oil and 1 part vinegar. Add 1 clove garlic and 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano and allow to marinate for at least 2 days.

Grecian-style Olives: Place 500 g Kalamata olives (black, shiny and pointed) in a jar, cover with vinegar and allow to stand for 2 days. Drain, and pack into sterilised jars, arranging the olives alternately with layers of lemon slices and celery. Cover with olive oil and keep in a cool place for at least a week.

Mixed Italian Olives: With a sharp knife cut slashes in the flesh of 500 g green and black olives. Place in a sterilised jar with 1 small green and 1 small red pepper, 3 sticks celery and 2 cloves garlic, all finely chopped. Add 60 ml each olive oil and vinegar and 1 sprig fresh oregano (or good pinch dried). Let stand at room temperature for at least 2 days. Store in the refrigerator until required. Use as an antipasto.

Preserved Olives: Choose fresh black olives and prick them all over with a skewer or pin. Place them on a large cane tray, sprinkle with lots of salt and toss them so that they become well impregnated with salt. Leave for 3–4 days. Continue to toss them 2–3 times a day. On the last day, add a little more salt to replace the salt that has been drained away. When the olives have lost all their bitterness, put them in a jar and pour over some olive oil. Add a few bay leaves and seal the jar. Store in a cool place for 2 months before using, turning the jar occasionally.

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