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.