Due to bureaucratic delays, we started harvesting our olives very late last year and were unable to complete the harvest before the oil presses closed in January. So in contrast to most of the neighbouring olive groves, when spring arrived we still had several terraces of trees dripping in fruit. While they’re no longer good for pressing, the black olives still on the trees in spring are perfect for curing and eating.
If (like me) you’ve ever tried to eat an olive straight from the tree, you’ll know that a fresh olive is bitter and inedible. Curing is essential to leach the acrid glucosides from the fruit. There are various ways of doing this, including using salt, lye/caustic soda, brine or drying, and the most suitable method depends both on the ripeness of the fruit and the type of olive. We have been experimenting with a few methods – drying (detailed here), using lye, and salt.
In Tuscany olives are generally grown for oil, rather than as table olives, so cultivars are selected with this in mind (although Leccino olives are grown commercially as table olives elsewhere). Nonetheless, our small, black and fully ripe olives make for delicious, highly-flavoured table olives – perfect for antipasto. We also like to have a jar on-hand for cooking – a handful added to a stew, or sprinkled (along with a glass over wine) over some roasting meat, add a tangy richness.
This is a ridiculously easy method which barely deserves the label ‘recipe’. It is good for lazy/ impatient types, as the olives are ready to eat in hours. They only keep for a couple of weeks though, so this method is more suitable for small batches.
Extra-virgin olive oil
Flavouring e.g. herbs, garlic, citrus zest, chilli flakes
Wash and dry the olives thoroughly. Spread them on baking trays in a single layer and bake them in the oven at a low temperature (approximately 50 degrees celsius) until they are shrivelled (but not totally dried up). This could take anything from 2 – 6 hours.
Once they have cooled, dress the olives in olive oil and your choice of flavourings (herbs such as rosemary, bay, thyme or oregano, citrus zest, garlic, chilli flakes). The olives can be eaten immediately but are even better if left to marinade for a few days, with the bonus that the flavoured oil makes a delicious salad dressing or dipping sauce.