One of the things I love to do most with spring and summer produce is pickling and preserving. A couple of months ago I had the opportunity to buy some fresh, ripe olives at the farmer's market to cure at home myself. These olives were Coratinas, a small, reddish-black variety that has its origins in Puglia, Italy and is more commonly used for making olive oil.
As soon as I returned home with my pound of olives, and instruction sheet in hand, I got right to work.
The first step was to rinse the olives well and remove any loose stems or leaves. Once cleaned, the olives were stirred into 2 cups of kosher salt, placed into a colander that was set over a bowl, and then covered with a clean towel and left to sit out on my kitchen counter.
The instructions said to check the olives the next day and to drain off any moisture that had been leached out of them, but when I checked, there was no sign of moisture, so I covered them back up with the towel and let them sit for a few more days. This time, when I checked, the olives were starting to pucker and while there was still no liquid at the bottom of the bowl, the salt had become noticeably damp.
I tasted one of the olives at this point and found it to be quite bitter and acrid, and so I added a bunch more fresh salt, and let it sit longer in the hopes of getting rid of the acerbic flavor. All in all, it took close to 2 weeks for the bitterness to dissipate and the mild, olive flavor to really shine through. By this point the olives had shriveled up substantially and had me a bit concerned as the meat to pit ratio had grown quite low.
Undeterred, I continued on with the curing process, hoping that letting them sit in oil for a few weeks might rejuvenate them. I rinsed the salt off, and shook the olives dry, and then placed them in a large mason jar along with a few cloves of fresh garlic, a bay leaf and a sprinkling of fresh and dried chiles.
I then added enough olive oil to cover the olives by about an inch
and sealed the jar with a clean, new lid and band. The instructions said to leave the olives for at least a week before opening them, and even then, recommended waiting a month, but I kept forgetting that they were stowed back in a dark closet, and actually didn't retrieve them until this weekend — 2 months after they were prepared.
I am really quite happy with how they turned out. Their flavor is surprisingly delightful, slightly rich, and buttery, and with no bitterness and just the right hints of garlic, herbs and heat. While they are still not as meaty as I would prefer, they are quite similar in flavor to my favorite oil cured olives from Morocco.
I had no idea that curing my own olives was quite this simple and now that I’ve gotten a taste, I really hope I get the chance to try it again soon.
(Recipe by Chef Whitney Gaunt)
1 pound ripe olives
3-5 cups kosher salt
8 cloves garlic, peeled
2 bay leaves dried chili peppers
high-quality olive oil to cover olives (roughly 2-3 cups)
- Wash olives, removing any stems or leaves.
- Place in a colander and set colander inside of a bowl.
- Sprinkle 2 cups of salt over the olives and stir well to coat. Cover with a clean, dry kitchen towel.
- The next day, or when salt becomes moist, add about additional salt to cover, and stir again. Drain any liquid in bottom of bowl. Cover again with towel.
- Repeat salting and stirring for at least one week (may take up to two.)
- After a week, test an olive for texture and flavor. When ready, olives should be slightly wrinkled, soft, and free of any bitterness.
- When olives are to your taste, rinse them in cold water until free of salt and shake dry.
- Place olives in a clean, quart-sized Mason jar and add garlic, bay leaves, and chiles.
- Pour in olive oil to completely cover by about an inch.
- Seal jar with a new lid and band and leave for at least one week. (One month is better, but olives can be eaten sooner.)
- Olives do not need to be refrigerated as long as they are submerged in olive oil. Use any leftover oil for salad dressing, bruschetta, or dipping. Will keep for at least a year.