Lawrence Durrell famously described the taste of olives as “a taste older than meat, older than wine. A taste as old as cold water.” That flavor was definitely NOT present in the watery-great-looking olives I planned to serve a friend coming for drinks the other night. These mushy olives had clearly been compromised by the wide-spread practice of pasteurizing olives to prolong their shelf life (Why? you might ask. They’re a preserved food!). I knew this because I’d once done a tasting of fifty or so varieties of REAL olives with an olive buyer, who filled me in on the things to look for in a good olive (reported here).

I wondered if there was any way I could salvage these mediocre olives, transform them into something good, if not delicious. On a whim, I threw them into a skillet with some olive oil, a smashed garlic clove and a few sprigs of thyme. I’d sauté them, hoping to evaporate the liquid in their flesh and thereby concentrate their flavor. I must have kept those olives on a lowish flame for 20 minutes or more, until finally, their skin just beginning to shrivel, I tasted one. They were much better, olives transformed.

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

They reminded me of other warm olive recipes I’d improvised over the years, like Warm Olivada, made with olives that were languishing in the fridge, crushed, spiked with garlic, thyme and orange zest. It is great to throw on bread or pasta, stuff lamb, sauce a fish…


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