Baked Olives - Serving Warmed Olives with Fresh Seasoning
Add a special touch to your next get-together or cocktail hour by just simply adding fresh herbs and serving your favorite olives warm.
by Piergiorgio and Amy Nicoletti
Table olives—black, brown, green, large or small—are a tantalizing way to lend color and taste to a vast array of appetizers and aperitivi. If you’re an olive lover, you already know how naturally delicious these wholesome goodies are—without any embellishment, straight from the olive bar, cured olives are an effortless way to enhance many plates and recipes. But, just as warming up or toasting your bread makes a remarkable difference in an antipasto course, you and your guests are sure to appreciate your taking that extra time to warm your olives before serving. The soothing warmth not only enhances the olives’ flavors and seasoning, but it also provides a delightful contrast with the cold cuts and cheeses—a special touch for your next get-together or just to liven up your evening cocktail hour.
Baking olives is an old Italian tradition, which probably originated in the south of Italy. It’s a very common practice in the Basilicata region—also called Lucania, whence the recipe derives its name—and in particular around the town of Matera, though similar methods have long been used in Sicily and Calabria as well. As olive harvesting must be done swiftly, many ripe black olives remain on the branches afterward—these are the ones traditionally used for baking. The cultivar doesn’t matter much, but large fruity olives are best. Traditionally, first, the olives would have been cured in the sun and then placed in the front of the communal wood-burning ovens used for baking bread. They would then be seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, hot peppers, wild fennel (finocchietto selvatico), orange zest and sometimes wild herbs—then, finally bottled.
Our recipes (see below) adapt many of the same ingredients and ideas for baking olives that have been practiced for centuries. Olive infornate (baked olives) or olive calde (warm olives) in Italian—are an ideal accompaniment for cheeses like mozzarella di bufala, caciocavallo and pecorino; they’re delicious with such salumi (air-cured meats) as capocollo and soppressata, as well. Italian contadini (farmers) still love to eat baked olives simply with good homemade bread.
Warm and Fresh Seasoning RECIPES:
Variations for baking already-cured olives:
1) You can enjoy delicious baked olives using already-cured ones: Bake them in a 120-degree oven for two hours on a baking sheet just as they are (unseasoned) and then season them as described above.
2) Take 2 pounds of your favorite already-cured olives and spread them with a bit of oil on a large baking sheet. Bake for about one hour in a 365-degree oven. In a bowl, mix well 3 tablespoons of extra virgin oil with some chopped rosemary, fennel seeds, a couple of chopped cloves of garlic, some fresh hot pepper, lemon juice and chopped orange zest. Coat the baked olives with the dressing and mix them. Let them rest for a few hours, mixing them once in a while before serving them with your favorite antipasto or simply with pecorino or goat cheese.