Warm citrus-fennel olives make me happy! They’re a lovely start to a meal or divine as a casual snacking olive. If you’re like me, it’s hard to eat just a few. The first couple of times I ate these olives I became aware of their addictive quality. The experience of eating warm citrus-fennel olives was so pleasurable that by the time I noticed I was mindlessly snacking, to my horror, I had eaten a few dozen. Olives are a significant source of fat and calories. Luckily they are high in good fats, fatty acids, polyphenols and are overall, a good addition to a healthy diet.
Nonetheless, the amount of fat and calories matter so I quickly realized, I’d have to modify my behavior. I now eat these olives as the main course or star attraction of a meal. The meal usually consists of a salad of baby greens, lightly dressed with a vinaigrette, a good loaf of artisanal bread for sopping up leftover juices and a glass of wine. The meal or the olives alone, pair beautifully with a light red or cool, effervescent Prosecco.
Does this sound good or what? Well guess what? While your were busy thinking about charm, elegance and deliciousness, you probably didn’t realize that this meal is also vegan and on par with the much lauded Mediterranean diet. There are sooooo many foods and dishes where eating healthy does not require you to sacrifice living richly, these olives are the perfect example!
A Bit About the Olive
For this recipe, I use Castelvetrano (also known as Nocellara del Belice) olives, hailing from Sicily. Castelvetrano olives are semi-easy to find. They can be found in many natural or gourmet food stores as well as most Whole Foods locations. You can find almost anything online so in a pinch, this is also a good source.
A few notes on selection, the flavor of pitted Castelvetrano’s is inferior. I’m not sure why but really, please don’t buy the pitted one’s if you can avoid it. The flavor of jarred Castelvetrano’s can be muted but still tasty so they’ll do, if need be. I buy olives from the olive bar at my grocer or specialty retailer who knows how to properly packaged and store olives.
In my experience, when you talk about olives, you realize that many people have been turned off by them at one point or another in their lives. Olives can often be overwhelming or underwhelming. The Castelvetrano is neither. These olives have a magnificent buttery flavor and are mildly briny. The texture is velvety, firm and meaty. Castelvetrano olives have the capacity to convert even the pickiest eater. At a young age, My daughter, who is a self proclaimed olive hater, thoroughly enjoyed these olives.
Castelvetrano’s are a vibrant shade of green, more like a forest green than the standard olive drab. The olives and the citrus peel have an appealing brightness in both color and flavor that is enticing and presents beautifully.
The preparation of this dish is simple, fast and actually has a sensual quality to it. I love the aroma released by the cutting of the citrus peel and the fragrance released through the warming process gives a little hit of aromatherapy.
Try this recipe yourself and I’m willing to bet that these olives will fast become one of your go to recipes.
- 2 cups Castelvetrano olives
- 6-10 strips of lemon zest (see instructions)
- 12-15 strips of orange zest (see instructions)
- 1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 3 medium bay leaves
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon water
- Drain and rinse the olives of their brine.
- Combine the olives and the remaining ingredients in a small/ medium size saute pan or pot.
- Gently warm the ingredients over medium heat for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, then lower the heat to low and continue warming for another 3-5 minutes. The liquid should never boil or even simmer. The optimum temperature is just below a simmer.
- To serve, spoon all ingredients, juices included, into one communal bowl or individual serving bowls. Serve warm or at room temperature and be sure to provide a bowl for discarding the pits.
*If you're not going to serve right away, store olives in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days. Bring to room temperature before serving.
*How to make citrus peel strips:
- Using a vegetable peeler or pairing knife, carefully cut into the skin and slide the knife around the fruit, in between the zest and the pith. If you accidentally peel off to much pith, just use a pairing knife to carefully shave a way the excess. A little pith is not bad but too much can impart a bitter flavor to the final dish.
- Using the pairing knife, slice the peels into thin strips. Easy peasy!
Recipe adapted from Alice Waters Masterclass
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