For The Love of Olives

In the late 1980s when I was living in Toronto, I discovered The Martini. Not any of the nauseatingly sweet and fruity coloured fad Martini selections bars feature these days, but the authentic gin (or vodka) and vermouth with an olive Martini.

That big, cold, sexy glass with just a tantalizing splash of liquid. That astringent bite when it first slides by your teeth – cold and assertive. Gone in a couple of swift gulps. Heady. And then the olive.

The olive (or 2 or 3 depending on how well I knew the bartender) became my favourite part of The Martini. One place used to soak their Martini olives in gin, so they’d be plump and ice cold and a bit crunchy and bursting with gin and olive flavour.

Olives quickly became a staple in my diet. My use of olive oil escalated just as quickly. I became mildly obsessed with olives. Black, green, stuff, pitted, tapanade, pate…

The obsession continues.

This is my screen saver at work.

 olives

An olive grove. I desperately want to live somewhere where I can have one of these in my back yard. Violetsky and I joke back and forth about one day, when we retire, buying a villa in Provence. I don’t know about her, (and I don’t actually know her except from blogging) but I’m only half joking.

I want to wake up to a tree that could be hundreds to thousands of years old and still producing fruit. I want to take that fruit to the local olive presser and watch him squeeze out its oil. And then I want to take that oil home, rip off a piece of freshly baked bread, dip it in the oil from that ancient tree and eat the chewy oily bread, complemented with  a glass of local wine.

Meanwhille, back in Realityville, the kid and I  go through almost a litre of olive oil every week. I used it for everything – cooking, salad dressing, popcorn topping, as a drizzly finish to a lot of meals. It’s also good as a moisturizer for your skin and hair and a drop in your ears once a week, keeps them wax free.

I keep a variety of olive oils on hand. The everyday oil from the grocery store and a bottle or two of really excellent oil from a specialty shop.

Spain, arguably,  produces the most and best olive oil, followed by Italy and maybe Greece. Everything else, exported,  is second rate.  Avoid anything produced in California – the only North American place that grows olives. They are allowed to call anything “extra virgin” even when it’s not.

Extra Virgin is a label given by the International Olive Oil Council to only the highest quality olive oil. The whole industry is akin to the wine industry, with tasters and vintages and the equivalent of appellations and stuff. Like wine, the more you pay, the better the quality of oil – usually. For regular use just make sure you get something from Spain, Italy or Greece. It will say “Extra Virgin” – the “first cold pressed” is implied.

Some interesting olive related facts:

  • There are over 800 varieties of olives
  • A ton of olives produces 50 gallons of olive oil
  • The cultivated olive tree is in an evergreen, and usually grows to between 15 and 30 feet tall
  • Olives taste really bad fresh off the tree. They need to be cured, to take off their bitterness 
  • Green olives and black olives are the same fruit – the green ones are just not ripe 
  • Christopher Columbus introduced Olive Oil to the Americas in 1492
  • Olive Oil is very high in healthy monounsaturated fats
  • Olive Oil has 9 calories for each gram of oil
  • The Calories in the Olive are high in monounsaturated fats
  • Olive Oil benefits the heart by helping to lower cholesterol levels
  • Plato’s olive tree is still alive although it no longer produces fruit

One of my favourite olive oil-related recipes:

Toss a bunch of crushed garlic in a good layer of olive oil in a skillet. Add fresh basil, diced sweet tomatoes a little salt and some asparagus. Sautee until the asparagus is tender. Spoon over pasta (I like it with penne). Crumble some feta on top and viola – a fully balanced meal perfect for summer evenings. (I’m having it for lunch today!)

PS: A dish like this is awesome with a crisp, dry Chardonnay.olive

PPS: I welcome any and all olive-related recipes.

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42 responses to “For The Love of Olives

  1. I’d never really heard of olive oil until the 80s, when my brother met his wife — her father imported Greek olive oil. My cat adores olives. Too bad for him that I can’t stand them (or olive oil).

  2. I like to saute a little fennel and red onion in olive oil, throw in some spinach, pine nuts (or sliced almonds) and sundried tomato. Stir in a little cooked angel hair. Plate it and add a few black olives and some parmesan.

    Sometimes when I’m cooking for a group, I’ll chop up all of the ingredients and let each guest choose what they want thrown in their dish. A simple crowd pleaser. I like a sauvignon blanc with it, but chardonnay is nice too.

  3. Oh yuck. I really really can’t stand olives. They are my least favourite food on the planet. It frustrates me when restaurants mess up my order of nachos. I think everyone I know either loves them or very much dislikes them.

  4. Oh. My. God. I love olives. Not the kind Jen’s talking about, above, from a can, but REAL olives. Kalamata, Nicoisse, etc. My friend Mark once asked me if I have an olive maker in my fridge. The grocery stores in Connecticut all have awesome olive bars.

    If you love olives, you must love putanesca, no?

  5. Oh, and our local Lebanese market/restaurant, Saeed’s, has olive oil “on tap” — bring your old bottle/s, and refill. And we do, we do.

  6. No recipe but one of my best meals ever.
    Sitting on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean, having a picnic lunch with Spanish olives, freshly baked bread, a hard Spanish cheese somewhat like parmigiana, and some nice dry red wine.

  7. My brother was lucky enough to marry into a family who own a villa in Tuscany. With their own olive grove. When I stay with little brother and his wife (as I did at the weekend) I get to gorge on their own olive oil, pressed and bottled at the villa. It’s cloudy and dense and peppery and OH MY GOD you would love it! (He brings chunks of parmesan the size of small cars back to Scotland with him too. I love him for marrying his wife!)

  8. Louise – Poor cat. And poor you! What a delightful and healthful thing you are missing out on!

    Megan – Oh! Thanks. I just skimmed it quickly and it looks intriguing!.

    Lola – Mmmm, that sounds nice. That’s the second time in 2 days that someone suggested a recipe using fennel. I haven’t thought about fennel in ages. I think it’s an omen to go out and get some fennel! (PS: isn’t Olive Oyl the mostest?)

    Jen – I think you’re right. I know a few people who can’t stand them. Of course the sliced, canned things they throw on nachos or pizza in many places are pretty unpleasant – but a well-cured olive? Mmmm. Do you like and/or use olive oil?

    Ellie – OMG – spaghetti puttanesca! I haven’t had that in ages (translated as “whore’s pasta”!!). I’ve never made it and I don’t know why except that it’s so damned salty. It’s definitely going on my list. Thanks so much for the reminder. I usually buy 3 litre jugs. I’ve bought the “on tap” stuff in a couple of places before and I found it a little rancid, so I’m hesitant. I have to find a good place. Saeed’s is probably a little far for me.

    Bandobras – How did you eat that hard as parmigiana cheese? I can barely grate the stuff without bloodying most fingers. Sounds like a perfect meal, to me regardless.

    Loth – I’m openly weeping here. Would your brother and his wife be interested in a second wife, do you think? I could be your sister-in-law! How much fun would that be? Try to convince him, okay. Seriously, I’m dying of the yearning weep here.

  9. I love martinis. Gin, though. Vodka martinis are just icky, even with good vodka, let alone with that vile Smirnoff vodka that they always show James Bond drinking.

    Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray, straight up with just the tiniest hint of vermouth and an olive. That’s a martini. I prefer Bombay Sapphire, but I keep both in the house.

    Yum.

  10. roasted cauliflower with baby tomatoes and chopped garlic:
    drizzle the above with olive oil, shake a little sea salt on it, roast at 400 for about 20 minutes (til cauliflower browns). chop some olives up (lots) toss it in with roasted veggies mix it all up and voila. so good.

  11. I adore martinis, with and without olives, gin or vodka… it’s all good. Just let them be so cold that the outside of the glass frosts up. That’s all it takes for me. 🙂

    I, too, had a rather passionate affair with olives and olive oil for years now… my husband and I have traveled extensively in Greece, bringing litres of olive oil home with us, which we then glug on all of our food like there’s no tomorrow. Salads, pasta, vegetables, potatoes, fish, soup, greens, and of course crusty bread.

    We use it on our faces to cleanse (wiping off slowly with hot cloths after massaging deeply) and then another drop to moisturize after. We run it through our hair at night and rinse in the morning for conditioning… I pour it in my bath with a couple of drops of Hvar lavender for that Mediterranean bath experience.

    So nice to hear that someone else is obsessed with olive oil! 🙂 And I will certainly try your recipe… it looks marvelous.

  12. Whenever I think of martinis, I think of Hawkeye Pierce from MASH. I didn’t know anyone else who actually drank them.

    Until now.

  13. I LOVE extra virgin olive oil! When I went to Greece years back we toured around the olive groves and our hostess proclaimed that Greece makes the best oil, not Italy.

    Apparently the rivalry between them for the title of producer of best oil has been waging on for centuries. LOL.

    I wonder what she would have said if I mentioned Spain.

  14. The Whole Foods in Atlanta has an olive bar beside the salad bar. I had no idea there were that many kinds of olives! When I move to Italy to buy my retirement villa I will make sure there are olive trees. What? A girl can dream right?

  15. Squid – I think I actually prefer vodka martinis. Gin is kind of overpowering. But hey, it’s the olive that’s important, right?

    Meanie – Thanks. That sounds good. I like cauliflower.

    Susan – I’ve kind of gone off martinis and hard liquor in general, but I sure kept the olive fetish! Nectar of the gods.

    Dr. Monkey – I’m beginning to suspect it has addictive qualities, the mysterious olive and it’s oozing juice (technically olive oil is fruit juice you know)

    Friar – What sort of circles do you travel in? Gee. Martinis started to become all the rage back in the late 80s. Then they developed an enormous list of drinks they called martinis which were just booze and juice in a martini glass. Now everyone is drinking what they think are martinis.

    Hannah – France also thinks they make the best olive oil. Spain indisputably produces the MOST olive oil, followed by Italy, followed in distant third by Greece and a bunch of other Mediteranean countries. I guess you’d have to do a blind taste test to see which one you preferred. I’d be up for that.

    Charlene – It’s a brilliant dream. Maybe you could get in on our villa in France. We already have half a dozen or so who say they want in on it. I have a friend from university who bought herself a run-down villa in Italy a few years back and goes 3 or4 times a year to work on it. It should be ready by the time she retires. It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous spot.

  16. Mmm. I love olives. I make a pretty damn good olive tapenade, which is great on bread with some goat cheese or even mixed in some pasta.

    In a blender or Cuisinart just mix pitted olives (your choice; I like a mix of black and green), garlic, olive oil, capers and some salt and pepper. Sometimes I throw in some roasted red peppers for a little more flavor. Mmmmmm.

  17. I like this post so much I came back to hang out for a while. Can’t wait to try Meanie’s cauliflower. I know, I know…I’m leaving now.

  18. I can’t eat olives. I’m not even sure what it is that I don’t like about them. They just make me gag. I like olive oil though, which doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    When I was in Cyprus in 2007, there were olive trees everywhere. They’re very pretty, but they can be really messy if they’re like, near a side walk. There was always tons of olives on the ground, all mashed up from people walking on them. The food and culture there is very Greek, so you’d probably love it. I spent a lot of time picking olives out of my food.

  19. I was in Portugal with a friend about eight years ago and we were touring the countryside and had the opportunity to try the olives from this excellent little place in the middle of nowhere. I, of course, devoured mine, but I my friend was a little more leery because she “doesn’t like olives.” I convinced her that “when in the Portugese countryside…” so she finally tried one, and then spit it out claiming it “tasted like poison.”

    Later that year, my sister and I somehow came to discussing olives and my sister said “I hate them, they taste like poison!”

    Now, after hearing of that little coincidence, my boyfriend who also hates olives, refers to them as poison as well.

    This leads me to believe that I’m surrounded by people with weirdo tastebuds. But man. I love olives.

  20. YUM. that sounds absolutely scrumptious.

    also, i didn’t know that about california’s olive oil labeling. how interesting. i will keep that in mind.

    i like to make hummous and drizzle olive oil over it for serving. though i think everyone else does that, too. also, it’s the only oil that’s quite right for tomato sauces and for cooking garlic and onion in. no other oil smells any kind of right for that.

    i also love green olives. the ones stuffed with garlic are the best, but there are blue-cheese stuffed and pimiento stuffed ones that are quite good also.

  21. Damn! I wish you had written this two days ago. I went to the grocery store yesterday and I am out of green olives. I LOVE green olives but do not like the black. I like to mince green olives and mix with finely grated cheddar for a cracker spread. Except after I spread it on like two crackers, I usually just eat the rest with a fork. I also like to chop them, mix with diced tomatoes, add a little Italian dressing and let sit in the fridge a while then top with a fresh grated good parmesan. Yum. And although I am not a giant pizza eater, when I do have pizza, I always get mine with Italian sausage and green olives. Yum, yum. Because I am a lazy person I sometimes make processed foods like Rice-a-Roni, but I always substitute olive oil for the butter. I LOVE olive oil. I actually cook with the olive oil that says “best for salad dressing and flavoring” because in my mind that means it tastes better. I use Carapelli. I will try your recipe if we ever get some decent asparagus. It has been ratty looking around here for weeks now.

  22. “How did you eat that hard as parmigiana cheese?”
    With the only thing you need to survive. A Swiss Army knife.
    Cheese slicer, bread slicer and corkscrew.
    It wasn’t quite as hard as parmigiana but close and it was excellent.

  23. @XUP

    I suspect the martini-fad of the 80’s was a yuppie thing. I wasn’t quite that old…I was still a student…engineering student, to be exact.

    Our alcoholic beverage of choice was beer, beer, BEER. Cheap and plentiful.

    Never had a martini in my life. But I do enjoy olives. Especially the ones stuffed with garlic instead of the pimento.

  24. Mo – I’ve never tried to make my own tapenade. There are so many delicious variations on the basic recipe that I’m still working my way through them. When I run out of new tapenades and am tired of the old ones (as if), I will try to make some of my own. Thanks.
    Lola – Hang out all you want. There are snacks and martinis and complete meals – help yourself.
    TEG – How sad for you about the olives. But at least you still enjoy the silky deliciousness of the olive juice. I can’t believe there is a place in the world where people walk on olives!

    Meagan – I think coffee and caraway tastes like poison, but a lot of people love one or the other or even both. One man’s poison is another man’s ambrosia! And that’s okay because it means more olives for us! Yay.
    AuntieHallie – Those damn California posers! You know if the olive oil is too cheap that there’s something wrong. Oh man, those garlic stuffed olives – wonderful but pungent. I’m not a big fan of blue cheese, so I stay away from those and pimentos I can take or leave. Mostly I like olives just straight up. And I totally agree about the oil. It’s pretty much the only fat we use – maybe a little walnut oil or sesame oil and once I had a teensy bottle of black truffle oil to drizzle into my favourite French lentil soup. Now THAT was gorgeous

    Geewits – If you can get a good brand of frozen asparagus, the recipe works pretty well with that, too. I like the recipe with the tomato and parmesan. I wouldn’t even add the Italian dressing – just a little olive oil and maybe lemon juice or balsamic vinegar – I love that with tomatoes, though it might be a bit much with the olives.
    Bandobras – Ah those Swiss and their handy knife – all you need indeed (well that, and a few thousand euros so you can buy some bread and wine and cheese on which to utilize all those gadgets)

    Friar – Just how old do you think I am, anyway? I was a student in the 80s, too. But not in engineering, so I reckon that explains it. You should try a martini — just once. Make sure it’s very cold though.

  25. My friend’s husband made me an amazing martini a couple of weekends ago, with three big fat tasty green olives. I have seriously never had a real martini that tasted so good before. I’m sure it was all because of the olives (I have no idea what liquor was in it – gin? vodka? – so it HAD to be the olives that made it so yummy.).

  26. They do amazing things in France with duck and green olives. I’ve been dumping green olives into baked chicken casserole type dishes. I love that taste along with the chicken. I have a recipe for large black olives stuffed with blue cheese, then breaded and fried. Not for the faint of heart.

  27. Dave – I’ve had it up to here (hand horizontally held under nose) with all the stuff Oregon has and does. Why don’t they just break off and form their own universe? Sheesh. Olive “orchard” indeed. They’re GROVES!

    Jazz – Ya, a co-worker was in Oz last summer and brought back some olive oil. It’s on par with Oz wine. Comparisons can be made between their olive oil and wine vs old world olive oil and wine. It’s all a matter of taste — whatever you prefer. I’ve never seen Australian olive oil here, though, have you? Do they export?

    Pinklea – Maybe it was a dirty martini with the olive juice added as well and probably vodka because you’d know it if it was gin, wouldn’t you? And maybe he soaked the olives in something for a while first? You should ask him for his secret. Never let a good martini get away.

    Linda – Argh – olives stuffed with blue cheese, breaded and fried? Have you had them? Of course, anything breaded and fried is good, but a little scary.

  28. Okay, you might have some work to do convincing me that olives are tasty. Am into the martinis though (and vodka martinis, especially). I love olive oil, just not the actual olives.

    BUT, interestingly, I was at a very, very expensive restaurant yesterday and my friend and I shared a wonderful salad, which was rather laden with little olives, many of them, so she didn’t want mine. And because it was an expensive salad, I decided to not waste them, but have a big bite of bread to mask the flavour if need be. Lo andf behold, I LIKED them! I meant to ask what kind they were, but forgot. Now, I’m thinking I maybe should try an olive bar tasting.

  29. Violetsky – They do say you have to eat a quite a few olives before you fully appreciate their taste. The little green olives were maybe manzillas? As long as you like the olive oil, the olives themselves will follow. Probably you’ve only had the grocery store canned or jarred ones? When we have our own, you’ll love them, I’m sure

  30. These were red (I think). Usually, I can’t even stand the lettuce the olives have touched. This was an exciting new taste experience. I bought some asparagus at the market today, will try your recipe.

  31. great, now i’m hungry 🙂

    olive oil is awesome, i use it for hand and foot baths to soak, great for dry skin.

    i do not, however like any olive alive. the husband and two kids are mad about olives.

  32. nice post but i would like to set the record straight on olive oil labeling. The IOOC or International Olive Oil Council is the governing body that certifies olive oils in the European countries but not the united states. Since the united States does not recognize the IOOC certification ANY item shipped to the US whether from Italy, Greece, Spain etc can and DOES label its olive oils as Extra Virgin without meeting the standards. The term is strictly used as a marketing term for the gullible American consumers. Additionally, the labeling laws only require that the producers put on the label the origin of bottling so many oils that say Italy or Spain on the front are only bottled there. the olives dont actually come from that country. As an example if you look at a bottle of extra virgin olive oil from two popular store brands “Carapelli and Bertoli” you will see both say Italy on the front label and on the back in VERY small print you will find that they are actually a blend of oils from several different countries such as Spain, Egypt, Tunisia bottled in Italy. Additionally there is wide spread corruption with producers blending in Mineral, Safflower and nut oils to extend the volume and increase profits. Anyone interested in the corruption of this industry should spend a little time researching. Also go to the New Yorker magazine site and search “Olive Oil the slippery business” or visit http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/08/13/070813fa_fact_mueller

    You mentioned to stay away from California products when in actuality if you know your grower you are safer to buy from us then an importer when you have no idea what you are receiving. We are a CA olive oil grower and use only sustainable practices in our groves. We are hand crafted from tree to table and are the only people in the country with our custom made mill and press. We have taken the old world method of the stone mill and fiber mats and made them 100% stainless steel. My husband sits on the taste panel for the California Olive Oil Council and does all of the olive oil trainings for the Chef students for the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) from Hyde Park New York.
    We operate three tasting rooms where we offer olive oil education and cooking classes and all of our oils exceed the standards of the IOOC.
    The real thing to remember when buying Olive Oil is to know your grower, make sure that you are allowed to taste it for freshness and make sure that it is harvest dated. It is fruit juice and does not get better with age. You should always know when it was harvested or the grower may have something to hide. either the product is old or refined. thank you for allowing me to add some clarification. May Olive Your Dreams Come True! Nancy Curry Co-Owner, Temecula Olive Oil Company

  33. Violetsy – Red olives, eh? I’ve never had those. How did the asparagus recipe turn out? (And thanks for the award again)

    Leah – I guess they’re a love ’em or hate ’em thing – though I’m sure you haven’t tried every olive alive. Look what happened to former olive-hater, Violetsky!

    Nancy – Thank you so much for your expertise. I love olives and olive oil enough to want to learn as much as possible. I do try to stay away from the grocery store oils because I’ve found the labels confusing and I had come across this oil corruption stuff before in my reading. I will for sure check further and I’m going to re-post your comment for my readers. I’ve never seen Temecula oil around here – do you export to Canada?

  34. Pingback: We’re Not Quite Done With The Olives Yet « XUP