Four ways with olives

Author: Lisa Featherby
Photography: William Meppem

Olives add punch to any savoury dish, brightening the likes of braises, sauces and more.

Little flavour bombs and the source of the good oil, olives are a no-brainer for the pantry. They're great on their own, of course, or as part of an antipasti platter, and also lend savour, salt and acidity to everything from braises to salads.

Each variety has its own character - the anise notes of tiny Niçoise olives, for instance, or the vanilla-butteriness of Cerignola. The punch of Greek black olives adds another dimension to lamb, and we love a green olive tapenade made with fleshy green gordals.

There's much to be said for sourcing olives from delis so you can try them before you buy. With Kalamatas, for instance, it's wise to steer clear of jarred home brands, which often consist of pulpy, flavourless olives. Look for firmness and clean flavour, and avoid olives that are mushy or bruised.

And the colour? Olives all come from the same tree - green olives are simply the fruit picked before it's fully ripened. And while we consider them a pantry staple, they should, of course, be stored in the fridge, in the brine they're sold in.

Bake our pumpkin, fennel and olive ring loaf.

Trout and olives baked in a parcel
Serves 4

Place 4 large pieces of baking paper on 4 large pieces of foil. Divide 2 thinly sliced zucchini among each, top with 4 trout fillets (180gm each), 1 cup crushed pitted black olives such as baby Kalamatas, 1 cup torn basil leaves, 12 halved cherry grape tomatoes, drizzle with 60ml (¼ cup) olive oil, season to taste and wrap to enclose. Place parcels on a tray and bake at 210C until trout is cooked medium (20 minutes). Serve with lemon wedges, a crisp green salad and bread.

Beef with olives and fennel
Serves 4

Combine 1 fennel bulb, cut into wedges, 250ml red wine, 250ml vealstock, ¼ cup rosemary and 6 bruised garlic cloves in a roasting pan. Place 1kg piece of oyster blade on top. Drizzle with olive oil, season and roast at 200C, basting occasionally, for 40 minutes. Strain off and reserve liquid and roast beef until cooked medium (40 minutes). Set aside to rest for 10 minutes and simmer liquid in a saucepan until a thin sauce forms (20 minutes). Add 1 cup quartered pitted green olives, such as gordal. Serve beef sliced with boiled baby kipfler potatoes and sauce.

Rigatoni with olives, tomato and mascarpone
Serves 4

Boil 400gm wholemeal rigatoni in a large saucepan of salted water until al dente (12 minutes), then drain, reserving a little pasta water. Heat 60ml (¼ cup) olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat, add 3 finely chopped golden shallots and sauté until tender (8-10 minutes). Add 80gm bruised small pitted black olives, such as Taggiasca, 1 large crushed garlic clove and stir for 1 minute, then add 3 finely chopped small red chillies and 2 diced tomatoes and simmer until tomatoes have broken down (4-6 minutes). Add to pasta with 1 cup torn basil leaves and season to taste. Serve topped with grated parmesan and a dollop of mascarpone.

Asparagus with olives and poached egg
Serves 4

Toss 80gm crustless sourdough breadcrumbs (from about ¼ loaf) with 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil in a pan over medium heat until golden and crisp (5 minutes). Combine 1 cup coarsely chopped green pitted Sicilian olives with 60ml (¼ cup) mild-flavoured extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tbsp finely chopped chives, 1 tbsp finely chopped tarragon, 1 tbsp aged white wine vinegar and 1 tsp olive brine in a bowl and season to taste. Peel the bases of 3 bunches of asparagus, then blanch asparagus in boiling water until tender (2 minutes). Drain, then divide among 4 plates and top each serving with a soft-poached egg and olive salsa and scatter with watercress and toasted breadcrumbs.

Hot tip

Olives that haven't been pitted retain better flavour. A quick way to pit them and release their flavour is to crush them with the heel of your hand to pop the pit out.

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