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Entertaining the Question
March, 2006 - Issue #17
Dear Catering Mentors,
I have been waxing poetic about olives, and my friends are starting to regard me strangely. Please, help redeem me.


They are on your pizza. They are in your martini. When you were young, they were on your fingertips. And up until a few years ago, they were only green or black.

Olives were first thought to have been cultivated about 6,000 years ago in Syria. They were a valuable trading commodity with the use of both the olive as a food and as oil spreading rapidly. References to the olive tree and its fruit can be traced through culture, theology and medicine.

Franciscan missionaries from Mexico brought olives to California in the 1700s. In the late 1800s to early 1900s we saw a resurgence of orchard planting throughout the state.

Now, with the surge of global cuisine and the return of the nuevo/retro martini culture, the olive has been brought back into the limelight.

Olives satisfy two of the basic food cravings - salty and sour - and so make one of the best finger-plucking appetizers. A trip to your local specialty foods store will present a plethora of olives - California black (for pizzas and fingers), Pimento stuffed Spanish (for martinis), Kalamata (large Greek with a pungent, full flavor), Nicoise (small, salty French with stem), Picholine (a green French olive, larger, briny), Italian Gaeta (dry and wrinkled) and Italian Liguria (tart).

One of the most popular and recognizable recipes for olives is Tapenade. A paste-like consistency, this delicacy comes from France and is a mixture of capers, anchovies, olives, garlic, salt and pepper, and thinned with olive oil. Any olive will do, but a combination is best. Use green olives for a different twist.

Going global once again, another of our favorite recipes is Chicken with Lemons and Olives. This version makes eight servings.

Chicken with Lemons and Olives
2 4 to 4-1/2 pound chickens, cut into eight pieces
8 medium onions, finely chopped
2 bunches parsley, stemmed and chopped
2 bunches cilantro, stemmed and chopped
24 garlic cloves, chopped
4 lemons, cut lengthwise into six wedges
6 tbsp olive oil
8 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground ginger
1-1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp saffron threads
1-1/3 cup brine-cured olives (Kalamata)


Divide chicken, onions, parsley, cilantro, garlic, lemons, oil, cumin, ginger, pepper and saffron between two five-quart pots. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 40 minutes until chicken is almost cooked through. Stir occasionally, adding water to each pot to prevent sticking.

Divide olives among pots, cover and continue to cook through about 10 minutes more.

Transfer to a large shallow serving bowl. Garnish with parsley sprigs and serve.

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When not traveling the globe via a cookbook, Cindy and Tamra run their business, RSVP Catering.
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