Recipe: Erica De Mane’s House Olives
I hardly ever have any real food in my refrigerator. I mean, I’ve got stuff like mustard, and I usually have a good stash of wine. You’d think being a food writer I’d have all sorts of delicious dishes wrapped up and ready to serve at any moment. Not so. First off, I’ve got no kids, so I don’t necessarily even stock dried pasta and canned tomatoes. I’m either cooking for Fred and me, shopping the day I cook, or I’m cooking for a big group, and shopping the day I cook. I usually send leftovers home with guests, because that’s easier than keeping them in my own refrigerator, plus I like giving friends food to go so they can think of me and my out-of-control generosity when they lunch on roast pork and cannellini beans the next day.
I like living like this. The stupid thing about it is that I often have nothing to offer friends when they stop by unannounced (I live in a street-level apartment, so they do often just show up, after looking in my window and seeing me milling around). I’ve always got booze, which is a good start, but it would be nice to offer them a little bread, cheese, salami. I sometimes have those things, but usually just dried up odds and ends, not in a really presentable form.
If you live like me but would like to keep a few savory treats on hand, I suggest you try this: olives and taralli. Taralli, the great, dry, crumbly, savory Puglian biscotti made from semolina flour, olive oil, and white wine and often flavored with fennel seeds or rosemary, are the best way to go. They last for weeks and go extremely well with both red wine and gin. And olives, in my opinion, go with any type of booze your friends may request. They’re beautiful, they’re shiny, they’re classy and delicious, and they keep. They are grand dining at its most minimally acceptable.
I’ve now come up with what I consider our house olives. It’s a mix of the little brown Niçoise and the green Picholine varieties in about equal measure. I know it seems funny for an Italian food writer to serve French olives as her staple, but the sad truth is that even here in food-crazed Manhattan I can’t always find decent Italian ones. (The dark brown Taggiasche olives from Liguria and the green Sicilian Castelvetranos are my favorites. They’re sometimes available through buonitalia.com, or at Buon Italia’s store in the Chelsea Market, but not reliably.) I often wind up with these two French types, and they’re in no way a compromise. They’re just not Italian.
I mix them together and then grate on a bit of orange zest, a few sprigs of fresh thyme leaves, black pepper, and a drizzle of fresh olive oil, I give them a toss, and that’s it. There’s something about the orange, thyme, and black pepper trio that makes them perfect for me. I’ve tried other mixes, adding garlic, fennel seeds, hot chilies, rosemary, and various other additions, but this is the one I’ve grown to love. So if I’ve got my olives, my taralli, and my vino, I feel fully covered in the bare-bones hospitality department. At least I’m offering something. And if your friends are still hanging around after the olives are gone, you can always send out for a pizza.
Erica De Mane’s House Olives
1 cup brown Niçoise olives
1 cup green Picholine olives
The grated zest from 1 large orange
The leaves from about 8 sprigs of thyme
Freshly ground coarse black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
Drain the olives of whatever oil they were packed in (I find that it can sometimes be a little stale tasting). Place the olives in a nice-looking serving bowl. Grate on the orange zest, being careful not to lift up any of the white pith. Add the thyme leaves, and grind on a bit of really fresh coarsely ground black pepper. Give everything a drizzle of your best extra-virgin olive oil, and toss. They’ll last about two weeks refrigerated, but bring them back to room temperature before serving.