I would eat them all they long: they are my favorite cuddles. What about you? Do you like olive, too too? They are definitely scrumptious on their own, but they can get really irresistible when stuffed. This is how we prepare them here in Italy. Give it a try yourself!
Plenty of magnificent hills full of olive tree groves rise all along Italy from North to South, thus making our peninsula the land of olives which come in countless shapes and colors. They are not only eaten on their own, but they also make a wonderful oil, or they are stuffed and enjoyed along with the typical Italian aperitive. That’s not enough! Olives can enrich several dishes such as pasta (I do love pasta with black olives, cherry tomatoes, and capers…so yummy!), pizza, or even meat and fish courses. They are perfectly paired with almost everything.
Olive tree groves are wonderful everywhere in Italy from Liguria and Garda Lake to Sicily, Sardinia, Apulia, or in any other regions overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Olive trees are charming: they mean longevity, and wild nature. Olive harvest is a yearly ritual which has had same methods, specific gestures, and unchanged rhythms and times for centuries.
Olive trees, hence olives, are divided into two categories: some olives are grown to produce oil, other ones to be eaten as table olives. To be honest, a third category can be either eaten or pressed to make oil, the famous Taggiasca, for instance. If these olive trees are grown according to specific techniques, their olives may be table olives as well. They fit pasta or fish recipes.
Olives can’t be eaten without being treated
You can’t have olives immediately after picking them up: an irritating substance (oleuropein) makes olives irritating and inedible. It is removed via maceration and a number of other specific treatments which varies according to the region of Italy and the kind of olives.
On the trees, olives are green. Table olives, those which can be eaten, must be medium-big sized (they must weigh 3-5g each) and they must be pitted easily; they usually show a thin, resistant, elastic skin, thick abundant pulp and small pit. They are usually harvested before complete ripening. I am drooling!
Once harvested, olive undergo either a fermentation process (which preserves their bright green color) or different production treatments (which may impart black color). If olives are already ripe (so they have already changed colors and have become almost black), they undergo a curing process in brine to remove bitter taste and make them edible.
What are olives made of?
They contain (good) fats: from 12% to 30% according to the varieties and the period of harvest. Black olives are richer in calories than green ones (which do I like the best? Danm! Black!). They also contain vitamins and mineral salts- notably, sodium and iron.
Which olives can you encounter in Italy?
In Italy you have a lot of choice: green, black, rounded, spherical olives. They make either a tempting snack in every season of the year, or a savory ingredient which enriches pasta, fish, salad, or pizza.
Olives usually show regional and distinctive features (some of them are guaranteed by specific regulations and origin designation, such as Gaeta olives).
This is a “short” list of the most common Italian olives. So, you may know what you want if you find a shop which deals with Italian products.
- Soft Ascolana is a big very fleshy green olive which weighs about 9g. This kind of olive perfectly fits the super famous recipe, Ascolana olives where they are stuffed with meat, coated in breadcrumbs and fried. They are often salt-cured too.
- Red Bella di Cerignola is a green olive from Apulia. Oval shaped, it weighs about 6g and can be easily found in the Usa because it is widely exported. Either green (crispier) or black, its delicate taste and firm texture make it a luscious snack on its own, or a savory ingredient to prepare tasty flatbread, pasta dishes, blue fish recipes, or white meat.
- Sicilian Giaraffa: covered by plenty of lenticels which make it spotted, this olive looks like a big long pulpy heart. Green olives have crispier pulp and fresher taste; black ones are sweet but they have a slightly bitter aftertaste.
- Carolea olive from Calabria. Both green and black varieties are either consumed as table olives or used to produce extra virgin olive oil. They are usually brine-cured or oven-dried; they make luscious snack on their own, or a savory ingredient to prepare fish or vegetable recipes.
- Itrana olives: you have heard of Gaeta olives, haven’t you? Well, they are very ripe Itrana olive variety: in fact, they are named after the shipping port, Gaeta. They lusciously enrich pizza, salads, or fish recipes.
- Kalamata olives originate in Greece, but they are very popular in Italy too. Dark green-brownish, they are quite easy to recognize; you may buy brine-cured, salt-cured olives, or even pickled in vinegar. Their sweet and rich taste makes this variety fit to be paired with cheese or vegetables recipes such as the super famous Greek salad.
- Taggiasca olives come from the Benedictine convent in Taggia, where this variety was first grown, over 1000 years ago. One of the most famous and appreciated kinds of olive, they are used either to produce oil or as table olives. Taggiasca variety is very small but pulpy; its fruity balanced flavor makes it very peculiar. Fruits are harvested at different stages of ripening, then they are brine-cured. These olives enrich typical Ligurian dishes such as stock fish or pasta and vegetable dishes.
- Nocellara del Belice is one of the best table olives in Italy. It is widely produced in Sicily in the River Belice valley between Palermo, Agrigento, and Trapani. Round and green, one olive weighs about 5-7g. This variety is usually brine-cured and used to top “crostini” or in plenty of soup and pasta recipes.
- Sant’Agostino di Bari is a round olive whose weight is about 6g. A toothsome table olive from Apuglia, it is cured in a marinade made of water, wild fennel and salt. It makes a tempting appetizer for the typical Italian aperitive.
- Santa Caterina from Tuscany. Its elliptical fruit weighs over 6g and it is best consumed as green table olive, either natural or brined, because of its pulpy texture. It is also paired with rabbit in a traditional recipe from Lucca (I know, rabbit in the world is not so commonly consumed as it is in Italy).
Where can you get good olives?
In Italy, you may find either loose seasoned or natural olives in well stocked supermarkets next to the caper containers, dried tomatoes, salt cured anchovies, or jarred ones.
How can olives be seasoned? A few recipes.
You may eat olives on their own, just rinse them from the brine and enjoy; here in Italy we often season olives to make scrumptious appetizers which enrich the aperitive before the main meals.
One after another, you will eat them up in a very short while!
Seasoned brine-cured olives-Italian “olive cunzate”
- 250 gr untouched fresh brine-cured green olives
- 1 small red chili pepper
- 1/2 celery stalk
- a handful dried oregano
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp white vinegar
- 1 carrot (extra)
- Carefully drain the olives from the brine;
- Remove the pit with a sharp small knife; try to leave them intact, but don’t worry if you break them a little bit;
- Put the olive in a mixing bowl with the finely diced celery;
- Peel and slice the carrot into very thin rings;
- Add the finely dices chili (don’t discard the seeds if you want a stronger taste);
- Season with vinegar, oil and oregano.
Mint flavored olives with breadcrumbs and pecorino cheese
- 30 big green brine-cured olives
- 2 tbsp breadcrumbs
- 2 tbsp grated ripe pecorino cheese or very ripe parmigiano reggiano
- 3-4 leaves fresh mint
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp white vinegar
- 2 tbsp dried oregano
- Prepare the filling;
- Combine breadcrumbs and grated cheese;
- Wash and slice the mint into very thin strips;
- Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and season with oil and vinegar; the mixture should result quite coarse and grainy;
- Rinse the olives and pit them with an olive pit remover;
- Use a small teaspoon to stuff the olives with the mint filling;
- Place the olive in a bowl and sprinkle with the remaining filling;
- Garnish with oregano and more mint to your taste.
Black olives with orange
- 200 gr black brine cured pitted or unpitted olives
- 1 big organic orange
- 2 laurel leaves
- 1 clove garlic
- 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Rinse the black olives from the brine;
- Wash, dry and zest the orange;
- Crash the garlic;
- Cut the laurel leaves into thin strips;
- Combine all the ingredients and season with oil;
- Let it marinate in the fridge overnight.
Calabrian cracked olives
- 250 gr green natural olives
- salt to taste
- 1 fresh red chili pepper
- 1 clove garlic
- fennel seeds to taste
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil to taste
- Rinse the olives to discard any impurities on their surface;
- Slightly smash the olive onto a flat working surface and put them into a container with cold water and salt;
- Close the container with its lid and set aside for one week- change the solution of water and salt every day;
- Once the time is up and the olives have got quite tender, rinse and prepare the seasoning;
- Season with salt, the minced garlic, the finely chopped chili and the fennel seeds;
- Add the extra virgin olive oil and a few small mint leaves to taste; mix until well combined;
- You may also keep these olives into an airtight container covered by extra virgin olive oil.
Green olive with parsley and celery
- 250 gr brine-cured green olives
- 1 celery head with the leaves
- 2 cloves garlic
- a small bunch of fresh parsley
- extra virgin olive oil to taste
- black ground pepper
- Rinse the olives in running water and soak them in cold water for 24 hours;
- When the time is up, carefully drain the olives and crush them into a mortar with the pestle; don’t break the pit and discard it;
- Finely mince the garlic and chop the parsleys; cut the celery into small dices;
- Combine all the ingredients in a bowl
- Generously sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and abundant extra virgin olive oil;
- Mix well and set aside in the fridge for 12 hours;
- Take the olive out of the fridge 2 hours before serving.
How seasoned olives can be kept?
You can keep all these preparations in airtight containers covered with extra virgin olive oil for longer time.
Once seasoned, they will keep fresh up to 2 days in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before serving.