With just a mix of olives, aromatic herbs and lemon peel you have an easy make-ahead appetizer for entertaining.
When you are hosting a dinner party, it’s tempting to overextend yourself making a variety of appetizers, but usually a few little nibbles before dinner are all you need. One of my favorite things to serve when having cocktails before dinner is olives.
An ancient fruit surrounded by history and acclaim, olives are one of the most enduring symbols of the Mediterranean. The olive tree, its fruit and oil have been significant in the culture and rituals of its native region, the Mediterranean Basin, and the economy of its inhabitants throughout history. The olive tree has long been a symbol of hope, beauty, peace and fertility. Immortalized by painters such as Cezanne, Van Gogh and Picasso this tree has a special place in the cultural landscape and identity of the area.
The trees tend to favor the rocky, poor soil of the region. Rows of gnarled tree trunks with slim graceful branches and shimmering silvery-green leaves dot the landscape. Plump olives cling from their branches, bearing large quantities of fruit that are harvested between October and January every year. In the south of France after a long day’s work it’s not uncommon to find friends sharing a bowl of olives accompanied by a glass of Pastis preceding dinner.
From small to large, jet black to pale green, plump to delightfully wrinkled, the varieties of olives to be found seem endless, each with their unique personality. The green ones are picked before fully matured and tend to be mild and nutty. Some are meaty and firm, others soft and yielding. Common varieties in Provence include the niçoise olive, with its nutty, mellow flavor, and the picholine with its buttery texture. The fact that they are so wonderfully versatile makes me fall even deeper in love with these salty little gems of the Mediterranean.
It doesn’t take much to transform good olives into great ones when marinated in olive oil and aromatic herbs such as thyme and rosemary. Fragrant thyme and rosemary lend a complex flavor and aroma to the salty olives that is intensified by the pure bright flavor of lemon zest. For a little Provencal twist I add a shot of Pastis (anise-flavored liqueur) to mine for a delicate and subtle anise flavor.
The olive oil is gently heated until the garlic turns golden and the rosemary and thyme release their fragrant oils.The mixed olives are stirred in and left to marinate in the herb and oil mixture becoming more flavorful with time. This recipe can easily be doubled and the olives stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Make a few batches to serve, to gift or eat straight from the jar.
These infused mixed olives make a good addition to any cocktail, dinner or cheese tasting party.