Making dinner for a friend last night, I wondered if I should blog any of the dishes I was preparing. In the moment I had that thought, I was peeling a long strip of orange peel to toss into my bowl of olives. Because preparing these is part of my weekly routine and is sort of this automatic thing I do after coming home from the market, I didn't realise that what I should write about are these olives, precisely. This is my favorite way to prepare olives.
I don't mean to cure olives from scratch; that's one thing that I just haven't had time to try, though I think about it often. This is just a simple preparation that will lift a tub of good, plain olives to a new level. I've never been one to buy pre-marinated olives; so often they seem overloaded with poor-quality dried herbs and flakes of stuff that cling annoyingly to the olives in a thick slick of poor-quality oil. I preferred a good olive plain, meaty and fruity - those ones that strike you during a meal like some ingenious use of punctuation when you're reading. Until I made these, that is.
What I love about these is that the clean, robust mouthfeel of the plump olive is preserved, but when you bite in, there's this wonderful aromatic explosion that happens. And it is led predominantly, surprisingly, by the flavour of the orange. Rosemary is a natural pairing for the citrus fruit, but oregano is very good too and here I've used both. Sometimes I add garlic, sometimes I don't. In short, you can add what you like here, as long as you try throwing in that long strip of orange peel - and then tell me what you think.
Lastly, some things I think are important in olives. People often comment how nice the olives I buy are - it's not a fluke! I'm fussy. It's worth sourcing good-quality olives - it doesn't necessarily mean they'll be more expensive or hard to find. Just ask to try one before you buy. I buy large Kalamata olives, out of habit and because I love them. My family is from Kalamata; this may have something to do with it. But as a rule of thumb, they shouldn't be mushy or really, really salty; instead you want meaty and robustly flavoured fruit. If you can't find large olives firm enough for your taste, try going the next size down: with less meat they often hold up better to storage and transportation. And finally, pitted or unpitted? Whole olives with their stone will win my heart every time, even if a pitted olive can sing like Jarvis Cocker. When the stone is taken out, brine washes right through the flesh of the olive, often leaving them really salty and destroying the fruit's texture. Besides, there's nothing more sexy than eating olives with your hands on a dinner date; as Jarvis says, "if you didn't come here to party, then why did you come here?"
Olives with orange, rosemary, oregano and garlic
1 small tub of large Kalamata olives (or whatever you prefer)
2 strips of orange peel
2 small sprigs rosemary
2 small sprigs oregano (or other fresh herb)
2 cloves of garlic, unpeeled, but poked in a few places with the tip of your knife
3 tbsp good-quality olive oil
1. Mix all ingredients together gently and pop into the fridge. Leave overnight, tossing them about a little whenever you think of it (2 or 3 times). Voila.