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VOL. 38 | NO. 35 | Friday, August 29, 2014

It’s the pits choosing between these olive varieties

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My 2-year-old grandson, Landon, loves olives and pickles, which he calls “ahwives” and “bickles.”

And, no, they aren’t the best thing for him, but what’s a grandmother to do when he’s holding up his chubby little hand begging for “ahwives?”

I’ll tell you what we do – we give him some. Not much, but some.

I can’t blame him. I love olives and pickles, too. However, once I check out the sodium and fat content, I don’t eat many of them.

My recipe today is a soup from Food & Wine magazine that sounds really interesting. I haven’t tried it yet, but I intend to – maybe this evening, if I get time.

But first, here’s a little info about olives you might or might not know:

Olives have been held in high esteem in Mediterranean cultures.

To the ancient Greeks, the olive tree was a gift from the gods. Today, olives are recognized as a delightful addition to soups, salads, and – well, most anything you want. Here’s a sampling of the more popular kinds:

Atalanti – From the town of Atalanti in eastern Greece, these purple-green Greek olives are pale, medium-round with a luscious, fruity flavor and fleshy texture. They are packed in vinegar brine.

California black – Firm black olives with a mild flavor. Green olives are cured in a lye solution that causes them to oxidize and turn black.

California Sicilian – Large green olives with a sharp taste. In 1769, olives were introduced to California by the Spanish. Today, California produces about 200,000 tons of commercial olives per year.

Chinese preserved – Shriveled medium-sized olives cured with salt, sugar, or honey and licorice root.

Greek green – “Prasines” are firm, fleshy, large, round and purplish-green. They have a mild, fruity flavor and crunchy texture.

Tomato soup with feta, olives, and cucumbers

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup pitted Niçoise olives
2 tablespoons oregano leaves
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Kosher salt
1 small Kirby cucumber, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon honey
5 tomatoes, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
2 ounces feta cheese, preferably Greek, crumbled (1/2 cup)
Baby greens, for garnish

In a medium saucepan, heat the six tablespoons of oil. Add the onion, olives, and oregano, and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until the onion is tender. Remove from the heat and stir in both vinegars. Season with salt. Cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, toss the cucumber with a half tablespoon of the honey and season with salt.

In a blender, puree the chopped tomatoes with the remaining half tablespoon of honey, and season with salt and pepper.

Pour the soup into shallow bowls. Top with the onion-olive mixture, cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, and feta. Drizzle with olive oil, garnish with baby greens and serve.

Green cracked – “Tsakistes” are large, firm green olives with cracked flesh, but not to the stone. They marinate in oil mixed with herbs, garlic, lemon, onion, or fennel. Their sharp flavor pairs nicely with cheese.

Kalamata – Originating from the city of Kalamata in the Southern Peloponese of Greece, these deep purple and almond-shaped olives are picked ripe and cured in red wine vinegar brine.

Liguria – From the Italian seaside town of Liguria. Small, black brine cured olives, with a pleasant bite and sometimes packed with stems attached.

Lugano – Another Italian, salty, black olive, these are packed with olive leaves.

Manzanilla – Originally from the Andalusia district of Spain, these olives are small to medium Spanish green olives that carry a smoky flavor reminiscent of Almonds. They are sold unpitted or stuffed with a variety of nuts and cheeses.

Mission – Another California black olive, they are pitted, sliced, or chopped. Mission olives are green olives that get their black color from the curing process.

Nicoise – This French olive is black, petite, and has a nutty, sweet, mellow flavor. They are often packed with herbs and stems intact. From the Provence region of France, but also grown in Italy and Morocco. Nicoise olives are cured in brine and packed in olive oil.

Picholine – Salt brine-cured green olives from Provence, and usually marinated with coriander and herbs de Provence. Long, slender and green, they have a slightly salty flavor and crunchy texture.

Ponentine – A mild, purplish black Italian olive which are salt-brine cured then packed in vinegar.

Provencal – Small, pale green marinated with herbs and imported from France.

Sevillano or queen – As the name implies, Sevillano’s originated in Seville, Spain. These green olives are large, round, salt-brine cured with a bit of lemon and bay leaf.

Sicilian – Sometimes pitted and stuffed with pimento, garlic or jalapeno, these are large, green sour Italian olives usually marinated with herbs.

Tailladees – A slightly sour, aromatic black French olive. Tailladees can be purchased stuffed, pitted or unpitted. Try one in your next cocktail.

Throumbes or Thassos – These Greek Olives are salt-cured and stored in olive oil. They are rich in flavor with a delicious, chewy texture.

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