Last week, Danielle and I did something we haven’t done before: we cooked together. After five years of talking and writing about food, we found ourselves in a kitchen, sharing a work area and stove. It was not only great fun – and filling – but also informative. I learned that Danielle and I have similar styles of cooking (we take liberties with recipes. That’s what they’re for, right?) and that we both prefer our tomatoes on the sweeter side.
Did we get together especially to cook together? Were we, for example, in Danielle’s kitchen, geeking out over sous vides and comparing cleavers? No. We were at Edinburgh New Town Cookery School, learning about olives from Omar Allibhoy, owner of Tapas Revolution restaurants across the UK, and following his olive inspired recipes (more or less).
Omar knows how to keep his audience interested. For reasons of time, we had to start with dessert – it needed time to set. But it also had the most intriguing aspect of the meal: candied black olives. The goats-cheese mousse was closer to a posset in texture than a mousse. It was very good: creamy and rich with vanilla. I couldn’t taste the chèvre, but Danielle caught a hint of it. The accompaniment of caramel, in which we cooked the olives for a while before adding sherry and cherries, was fabulous. The olives were chewy like licorice, the cherries tangy, brought together in sweet harmony by the caramel sauce. It was the most interesting olive recipe I’ve ever made because it defied my expectations.
- 50g of pitted black olives
- 100g of cherries
- 1 cup of caster sugar
- 1 cup of water
- 1 glass of sweet sherry wine
- 400ml of double cream
- 1 tea spoon vanilla essence
- 50g of goat’s cheese
- 50g of sugar
- 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
- Place a small sauce pan over high heat and add the sugar, water and olives.
- Let it all form a syrup and reduce down to a golden caramel
- At this point add the glass of sweet sherry and the pitted cherries and let it all boil together for an extra 5 minutes. This will keep in a tight container for more than a month
- Bring all ingredients to the boil while whisking until fully dissolved.
- Chill for a couple hours and whip with the help of a whisk.
Where green olives are young and acidic, black olives are mellow, oily and rich. Ones that have matured for a long time can be wrinkly and have an extra condensed flavour. I like the smooth-skinned black ones, the ones that are brown or grey inside and have a deep, almost Christmas-spicy flavour. We used these to enrich a tomato sauce (onions, garlic, tomatoes, white wine, vinegar, thyme, rosemary and lashings of olive oil).
One colour of olive isn’t enough. To spice things up, we wrapped green olives in meatball mixture (bread soaked in milk, beef mince, finely chopped onion and garlic, and egg) and cooked on three sides until done. We then cooked the sauce in the same pan, catching the meat juices, and adding the meatballs last minute to warm up. It was really tasty, and a fun way to make meat balls interesting. Having grown up in Sweden, meatballs is, to me, something you give kids – not a grown-up food. The sauce and olive stuffing add zing and make these very adult balls.
Marinading olives is easy and fast. Time strengthens the flavour, but you can blend together something that tastes good and is a bit more interesting than olives straight out of the brine in just minutes. It’s easy. Mix olive oil with your flavourings (garlic, dried herbs and chilli flakes is a classic) and leave the olives in the mixture for the flavours to develop. The rind of an orange works well with Mediterranean flavours too. The discovery on the night was how very nicely Indian spices – cinnamon, ginger and cardamom – go with black olives. They are more mellow in flavour, less acidic, and take the warm spices well.
Spain produces a lot of olives and Omar was in Edinburgh to help open our eyes for these wonderful fruits and teach us a couple of ways to cook with them. Both the meatballs and the marinated olives make great tapas.
The evening reminded me how much I enjoy olives, black and green, and C. will see them on the menu a lot in the coming weeks. The day after cooking with Omar, I whipped up a two-olive tapenade, made to go a little longer by adding pine nuts. It makes a wonderful spread, perfect on sourdough toast, as well as a dip or pasta sauce.
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