“OH! The olives.”
“Oh. The olives. They are so much work. Should we make the olives? They are so much work.”
“But, ooooh, the olives, they are so delicious.”
I first heard about Olives Ascolana through a conversation at the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives that sounded something like the above. Rafaela Terzo and Angela Sanfilippo reckoned with them, fearful of their tediousness but tempted by their awesomeness.
Olives Ascolana were created in the Marche of Italy. They are a traditional dish made with the overly large pale olives native to this Adriatic-lined Italian region where Rafaela Terzo was born and raised. She has lived in Rockport for years now, raised her son there, but still speaks with a musical Italian accent. After hearing Rafaela and Angela assess them, I needed to make The Olives.
This is one of those wonderful old world recipes that slows clocks. It consumes time, demands focus, even asks for a little knife finesse. But, like embroidery or model building, it consequently creates its own bell jar of time and space. These olives ask for about an hour away from the world, an hour of carving the pits from their fruits, creating a stuffing, and frying in hot oil. In a world mostly delivered by tweets and posts, we could all use a slow hour.
The recipe should really include at least two people, one to pit the olives, and one to make the stuffing and talk to the person pitting the olives. Even better, do this with friends.
The result is a gorgeous bowl of olives Ascolana. The crunchy fried exterior shatters to fleshy, succulent olive and warm meaty centers. Serve this for a holiday party and you will be a star; your party writ as epic. Even smarter, make them in the hours of New Year’s Eve when everyone is waiting for midnight, certainly one of the slowest evenings of the year.
I made these with the largest olives from Pastaio via Corta on Center St. in Gloucester. Pitting them is a bit of a thing. I actually made a video, but lost it, so I have tried to write it out. The Silvia Colloca site has a good video for explaining this. Also, you can prep these olives right up until frying, and freeze them for a later date. What a treasure to have in your freezer.
This recipe has been adapted from Made in Italy with Silvia Colloca, a pretty fabulous site for Italian recipes.
makes 30 olives
For the Olives
30 large green olives,
2 cups plain flour
2/3 cup dried breadcrumbs
sunflower oil, for deep-frying
For the Stuffing:
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small brown onion, roughly chopped 1 small carrot, roughly chopped
1 small celery stick, roughly chopped
2/3 cup pork sausage meat, removed from its casing
1 chicken thigh fillet, cut into cubes
1/4 cup diced mortadella
2/3 cup white wine salt flakes
2 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs (see below)
2 tbsp freshly grated parmigiano or pecorino
1 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
finely grated zest of ½ lemon
1. Place the olives in a bowl of cold water for 30 minutes to get rid of the briny flavor. Dry them and set them aside.
2. To make the stuffing, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat, add the onion, carrot and celery and cook until softened. Add the pork, chicken meat, and mortadella and brown well. Pour in the wine and cook over high heat for 1–2 minutes or until the alcohol has evaporated, then reduce the heat to low. Season with salt and cook for 15–20 minutes or until the meat is cooked through.
3. Remove from the heat and stir in the breadcrumbs, then set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
4. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and whir for 10–15 seconds or until it looks like a thick paste. Scrape the paste into a large bowl and add the cheese, parsley, nutmeg and lemon zest. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly.
5. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl, then mix 3 tablespoons of the beaten egg through the stuffing (reserve the rest for later). Rest for 30 minutes.
6. To prepare the olives: take a small paring knife. Working slowly, in one complete motion, start cutting across the top of the olive. Cut across, beneath the dimpled top. Keep the knife moving, and continue moving the tip of it slowly down the whole side of the olive. Now, under that olive flesh, set the length of the blade against the length of the pit, and move the knife to circle the pit that way, carving the pit out from under the olive’s flesh. You should come all the way around the olive, and then be able to just pull the pit away, leaving the flesh in one piece. (I actually made a video of this, but somehow lost it; watch for a new video soon!)
7. Using your fingers, roll 1-2 teaspoons of filling into a ball, and then tuck it inside the olives. Depending on the thickness of your filling, you might end up just pressing it in, but you should be able to do this with your fingers. They should be plump with stuffing.
8. Roll the filled olives in the flour, then in the reserved beaten egg, and finally in the breadcrumbs. Roll them one last time in egg and breadcrumbs to create a super-crunchy double coating. You may need to replace the breadcrumbs halfway through rolling, as the wet egg mixture will inevitably make it a bit too sticky to be workable. Likewise, you may need to add an extra egg or two if the olives absorb more than you predict.
8. Half-fill a large frying pan or deep-fryer with sunflower oil and heat over medium–high heat to 180°C or until a cube of bread browns in 15 seconds. Add the stuffed olives in batches and fry for 3–4 minutes or until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with paper towel. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
To freeze, arrange the stuffed and crumbed olives on a tray without touching. Freeze for about 2 hours, and then remove them to a ziplock bag for further freezing. They keep for up to 4 weeks.
Any leftover stuffing mix can be turned into mouthwatering meatballs or filling for tortellini; Rafaela says that this mixture is the most traditional tortellini filling.