How something so mundane becomes so gourmet

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Olives face a reputation issue in America.

We usually can find only two or perhaps three varieties in our stores: Common green, pimento or onion stuffed; canned blacks from California; and perhaps a costly Greek variety in brine, such as Kalamata.

This hardly represents the olive world.

Black olives are green olives left on the tree. Shiny black olives usually canned are picked green, cured with lye (no kidding) and oxygenated to speed up the ripening to black. They’re slick and squeak when bitten, not entirely appetizing.

Kalamatas, in oil, are the eye-openers to the potential of olives. They’re strong, but their flavor holds up in cooking. Pit and chop some into your favorite meatball or meatloaf recipe.

You’ll find scores of other olive types, ranging from the wrinkled, peppery Gaeta packed with herbs, from Italy, to the subtle, fragrant Nicoise, the brown beauty from France.

In this company, green olives stuffed with pimentos seem mundane. You can end that easily:

• Marinade a jar of large, pitted green olives overnight in a mixture of a clove of pressed garlic, 1/2 cup white wine vinegar and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Remove the pimentos, chop and mix them with cream cheese. Stuff the olives and serve with toothpicks. It’s a vast improvement, and you save about $8 over store-bought.

• For cooking, go for dry-cured instead of the usual brine and vinegar varieties. They’re cured in salt, which dehydrates them and wrinkles their skin, like dried prunes. This concentrates the olive flavor, perfect for even a four-hour stew. The California blacks are mild compared to the more robust Moroccans.

Once you’ve laid in a supply of olives, try the why-not cuisine genre. Why not use them in anything that sounds good?

• In cold dishes, olives add bursts of flavor instead of an overall seasoning. Try slices in pasta or potato salad. Try some in your favorite white-bread recipe. Mince some black olives and add to your stuffing for roast turkey or chicken.

Olives marry well with wild and white rice.

• In warm dishes, olives offer more seasoning power and become less tart. Chop and add to scrambled eggs. Before baking your next meatloaf, cut it in half, stuff with olives and feta cheese, and replace the top. Be prepared for familial shock.

Olives cut the acid edge of tomato sauce. Simmer a quarter cup of diced Kalamatas or dry-cured in a quart of sauce. They add a more complex flavor.

◾1 pound assorted green and black olives
◾2 cloves garlic, peeled
◾3 T capers
◾2 T fresh parsley
◾4 T olive oil, extra virgin
◾2 anchovy fillets (optional)

Pit the olives and place all ingredients into a food processor or blender. Chop until mixed but not pureed. It should be a coarse spread. Keep in a covered glass jar with a layer of olive oil on top to prevent oxidation.


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