Olives – Important to Italian Cooking


Olives are important to Italian cooking.  In fact it’s difficult to explain just how important olives are to Italians and other Mediterraneans. Growing up I remember our kitchen being stocked with no fewer than four different types of olives at any one time.

From late August to November there were always fresh green olives from California soaking. My mother would crack and pit them with a large, smooth, white rock still in use in my kitchen. After the cracked and pitted olives sat in fresh water for a week or two they became part of a most incredible mixture. They were combined with chopped celery, thinly chopped slices of both sweet and hot red vinegar peppers, copious amounts of chopped garlic, oregano, wine vinegar, sea salt, and extra virgin olive oil.

The fresh olives and ingredients were allowed to marinate for a day and were then used to add to salads or eaten on their own with hot, crusty bread. At the end of the season this fresh mix would be put into mason jars and would last us through the winter and spring until fresh olives were in season again.

Always in stock were large Sicilian olives prepared in brine. Not too bitter and meaty, these were the workhorse of olives at our house. They were eaten on their own with bread and cheese, added to salads, pasta sauces, stuffing mixtures, or as components of various meat, rabbit, fish, or chicken dishes.

Black oil cured olives had their own special place in the olive pecking order at our house. It was not uncommon to see three different varieties served at the same meal.

Our olive craze didn’t end with just Italian or Sicilian olives. My mother considered the black Greek Kalamata and Syrian and Lebanese varieties superb.

Here’s a fantastic pasta dish to try that takes less than twenty minutes from start to finish. It is sublimely simple and probably something you’ve never tried before.

Olive Pasta – Serves 4

  • 1/2 lb. Sicilian Olives cured in brine – pitted and chopped coarsely
  • 4 Stalks Fresh Celery – chopped fine
  • 4 medium to large cloves garlic – chopped fine
  • 2 Fresh Roma Tomatoes – seeded and chopped into small cubes
  • Olive Oil – four tablespoons
  • Black Pepper – very coarse
  • 1/2 lb. grated Provolone Cheese
  • Sea Salt
  • 1 lb. Thick Linguini – 100% semolina pasta

Bring two quarts of salted water to a brisk boil. Break the foot long Thick Linguini in half, add to the water and stir well. Cook until it folds easily but is still extra firm, or al dente inside. Save one cup of the cooking water.

Over a high heat, sauté the fresh celery and garlic in four tablespoons of oil until the garlic is light brown and the celery is softened.

Add the chopped olives and stir until the pan is sizzling again, about two minutes.

Add the chopped, seeded, tomato pieces and stir for two minutes and remove from the heat.

When the pasta is done drain it well and add it to the mixture. Stir or toss well over a medium heat until all the pasta is covered in the mixture.

Add the 1/2 lb. of grated Provolone cheese and stir and toss again. Grind coarse black pepper all over the pasta and stir again.

Serve with additional grated Provolone on top of each dish and a splash of fresh oil as well.

Written by Dino Romano, former Pasta Channel Italian Food Blogger, Italian Cook Extraordinaire,
Entrepreneur and Raconteur. Has taken Kyle Phillips (former Principle/Blogger for the About.com
Guide to Italian Food) to task on several supposedly “authentic” Italian recipes.

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