Food, family, memories (a recipe for pan-fried olives)

Food has a strong tie to memories. A scent or flavor brings you back to a very particular moment in time. The strongest food memories are often tied to family, like the flavor of tomato sauce, cooked on the stove for most of the day, brings back memories of family gathered around the table, sharing stories.

I love writing about food because it gives people a reason to share their memories. When I ask for a recommendation or a recipe, I usually receive a story along with it. I asked friends and family about olives, and my great aunt told me about one of her favorite recipes from her childhood, growing up in the Bronx, with olives purchased from one of the Italian shops along Arthur Avenue.

To set the scene, I will share my recollections of my great-grandparents’ house in the Bronx. My memories are from a different point in time than hers, of course, but isn’t that how memories of food and family work? They layer upon one another as memories and recipes are shared and tasted by new generations, blending together into a new creation.

If you were to enter the house, and meet my great grandparents, Sal and Rose, you would be offered something to eat. Most of my childhood memories of them revolve around sitting in their kitchen, with my great-grandmother cooking a meal, and my great-grandfather sitting at the table, a record on the turntable, singing along loudly and with great joy. Sometimes he would head out to his extensive backyard garden to pick figs for the table, or gather one of the enormous lemons he grew. If you want to set the mood for this recipe, gather some good friends and family, have a dish of pasta with sauce that has been cooked all day, and play a little Enrico Caruso in the background.


Recipe: Pan-Fried Olives

Like most of my recipes cooked from memory, this has no measurements, and no proportions. The ingredients are olives, olive oil, oregano, and good bread. Everything is to taste, and you should experiment to find what you enjoy the most.

To start, select good black olives (the wrinkly kind), sold as salt-cured or olive-cured. This type of cure makes the olives intensely flavored, both fruity and salty. These particular olives come from Turkey, but you can find this style of olive at a number of olive bars (including at Whole Foods), although be cautious that some may be mixed with hot peppers or other seasonings which can change the flavor of the final dish. I will write more about this olive variety later, including where to buy them online.

Add a mild olive oil to the pan, and warm it on medium heat.

Remove the olive flesh from the pits, and roughly chop the olives.

Add the olives and let them fry in the olive oil. This was the most interesting part of this recipe for me, as the scent of the olives completely changed, becoming very intensely fruity, almost a cherry scent.

Remove the olives from the heat once they start to get a little bit crispy, and the skin on the outside turns a slightly lighter color.

Plate the olives onto good bread (I used a sliced ciabatta here). Drizzle on a little extra olive oil if you like. Sprinkle on a bit of oregano (I used fresh, but dried is perfectly fine). Again, everything is to taste.

The olives themselves add salt to the dish, but their characteristic olive flavor is transformed to be more like a very good aged cheese. The olives that were fried longer are crispy and almost charred, while the ones that are less cooked retain more of the olive’s fruity character. The oregano serves as a nice addition both in flavor and in scent, mixing well with the warm olives.

Enjoy, and let me know what your variation of the recipe tastes like!

One Comment

  1. Claire, sprinkling some oregano while the olives are frying opens up the flavor of the oregano, especially if you use the dry oregano. I am so happy that you like this recipe. Let me now if you want anymore recipes. I’m sure I have some more from Nonni. Love you. God bless. Auntie

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