Table Olives 101
Olives are delicious in all kinds of savory recipes and on their own.
Italy gets plenty of acclaim for its diverse, first-rate olive oils, but we’d like to take a moment for the olives that aren’t pressed into fragrant, savory oil: their table olives. Italy has more than 500 olive varietals, says Nick Coleman, the olive oil specialist at Eataly’s New York City store, though some are used only for making oil. He adds that olives can’t be eaten directly off the tree—they’re brined and preserved to make them softer, fruitier and more palatable.
“Depending on the time of harvest, one can achieve a variety of textures and flavors when it comes to the table olive,” Coleman says. All olives begin green and mature to a deep black, he says, so their colors reflect their stage of aging. Here are three types we keep on hand. Good sources for the olives are Eataly, Buon Italia, and and Gustiamo.com.
For recipes featuring the briny flavor of these recipes, look to the related recipes at right.
Bella di Cerignola
This olive comes from Puglia, which Coleman notes is Italy’s largest olive producing region and home to the country’s oldest olive trees. Bright, large and oblong, it can be eaten green or black and has a meaty texture and mild flavor.
The prized Sicilian olive is also known as the Nocellara del Belice variety. Large, smooth and round, it’s usually eaten when brownish-green, Coleman says. Its crisp flesh and buttery flavor go well with antipasti such as salumi and hard cheeses.
“The famed olive of Liguria is a rather small, delicate olive,” says Coleman. “It produces a light, soft oil great for fish or vegetables.” Usually, they’re picked for eating when brown or black, soaked in water for 40 days, then brined with herbs.
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