Sunday, September 26, 2021

The amazingly versatile olive

THE fruit of the olive tree has been cultivated for thousands of years. They are one of the few foods that naturally contain four basic flavors: bitter, sweet, salty and acidic. This makes them extremely versatile for cooking and creating powerful flavors in many dishes.

Olives are a key ingredient in the Mediterranean diet - famed for being one of the healthiest in the world with studies showing its ability to significantly lower heart disease.

There are around 150 calories in each 100 grams of olives. This is some four times lower than eating processed snacks. Olives contain up to 77% contain oleic acid – an important monosaturated fat. They are a natural source of vitamin E, while black olives are a source of iron.

Olives are perfect as a snack - savory, umami-rich and full of tasty, zingy lactic acid. Olives are salty enough to stand up to pretty much any aperitif, from a peach bellini, to a strong martini or a simple glass of rosé.

But Olives are much more than a snack, a condiment or a garnish. Olives can add flavor, color and a lot of interest to many dishes.

Most of us have half-used jars of olives lurking at the back of our pantries but what to do with them? Here are a few ideas to finish up those olives.

Spicy tomato pasta: Jazz up a ready-made tomato and chilli pasta sauce by throwing in black olives, capers and chopped anchovy fillets. Stir through long, thin pasta and sprinkle with chopped basil.

Quick savoury dip: Create a quick tapenade by finely chopping pitted olives and a little garlic. Process until smooth, season, then add olive oil to loosen and calamansi juice to taste.

Simple chicken dish: Make a marinade with sliced olives, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and seasoning. Coat chicken thighs and leave for 15 minutes. Put in a roasting dish with lemon quarters and rosemary leaves. Roast at 350F for 20 minutes. Turn and roast for another 15 minutes or until cooked through. Serve with the lemons and juices sprinkled over.

Mediterranean salad: Throw together a quick salad with a bag of baby salad leaves tossed with a light dressing. Add cubes of feta, chick peas, olives and tomatoes. Serve with country bread.

Easy stuffed tomatoes: For an easy, prepare-ahead starter or light lunch, stuff scooped-out tomatoes with cooled, cooked rice flavored with minced garlic, sliced green olives, chopped tomato, calamansi juice and chopped herbs such as flat-leaf parsley.

Mayonnaise with a twist: Pit and chop olives, add to ready-made mayonnaise, season and add a splash of calamansi juice. Mix well before using as a dip for raw vegetables, or spread in a sandwich with salad leaves and ham or salami.

Chunky veggie sauce: Make a rich and chunky sauce using eggplant, red onion, garlic, courgettes, red pepper and a can of chopped tomatoes. Throw in a handful of olives – great as a side dish or stirred through pasta.

Main-meal salad: Lightly dress salad leaves and arrange on a plate. Top with cooked and cooled Baguio beans and baby potatoes, black olives, halved small tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs cut into quarters and tinned tuna chunks. Season before serving.
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