Dry-Cured Pelion Olives
We're back from Greece and settling into daily life in Milan again. It's always sad to leave vacation but we brought some fresh Pelion olives back to remind us of our outdoorsey, do-it-yourself life in Greece. Pelion olives are quite different from the very popular Greek Kalamata olive. They are bigger and rounder but not as black and without that pointy tip characteristic of the Kalamata. I have eaten them in a variety of styles from salty to tart to herby. In early December, my in-laws had the olives on the property collected. They got a few gallons of olive oil and a barrel of fresh olives from the harvest. Fresh olives, of course can't just be eaten off the tree. Their bitter juice must first be leached out and then they can be flavored. We took a bag of "good" olives - the prime ones that were shaken from the tree at the peak of ripeness and I collected some lesser olives that remained on the tree. The fresh "good" olives are big, juicy and an indeterminate color between tan and black. Exposure to sunlight darkens them as they age. The ones left on the tree are drier and wrinkled and jet black with a light blue-purple bloom on the skin. So why did I collect the left-over olives? Mina, the neighbor down the road brought us some that she had collected late and simply cured in salt. They were rich and a bit salty without the typical tang from being stored in vinegar. I was impressed by tasting such a delicious thing that normally goes to waste. I looked through a book of recipes for preserving fresh olives, "Les Olives du Table" by Fiorella Cottier-Angeli and found some great advice for dry-curing olives left on the tree. You can follow this process with "good" fresh olives that are often available fresh and un-cured in Italian groceries in the fall and winter. They are certainly available at Caputo's in Chicago. BTW: These olives are called "Olive al Forno" (Oven-Baked Olives) in Italy since one of the steps is putting the olives in the oven to dry.
SALT-CURED PELION OLIVES OR "OLIVE DEL FORNO"
2 pounds of fresh black olives
1 cup of the cheapest fine salt (here that's un-iodized sea salt believe it or not)
olive oil to cover
one of the following herb/spice combinations:
- 3 bay leaves and 1 sprig of fennel tops
- 3 fresh thyme sprigs and 3 bay leaves
- 1 tsp freshly ground cumin and 1 tsp ground sweet paprika
- 1 tsp dried red chili flakes and several slices of preserved lemon.
Thoroughly wash the olives and let them dry in a collander for 24 hours. Mix them with the salt, place a plate over them and weigh the plate down. (My mother-in-law did this in the country house and used a huge log to weigh the plate down, I'm using my marble mortar and pestle. Just get something stable and heavy. Leave the olives to render their bitter juices for about 1 month. Ms. Cottier-Angeli mentions that the Maroccans leave them for 2 weeks, the Algerians, for 1 month and the Italians for 2 months. In any case, you must leave them until they stop rendering their juice.
Once that has happened, rince them with clear water and dry them. I'm going to follow the Calabrian suggestion of baking bread, turning off the oven and immediately placing the olives in the oven in one layer on cookie sheets and leaving them in the oven until it has cooled completely. They should be wrinkly and soft. Pack them tightly in glass jars and cover with olive oil. Add one of the seasoning combinations. I don't know how long it takes for the herbs and spices to make an impact on the flavor of the olives but they can be kept for a long time.