Olives grow throughout Spain, and the varieties from each region have distinct flavors. Pick your favorite olives for this dish—as long as they’re from Spain! Here I’ve used a selection of the country’s best varieties.–José Andrés
LC Fancy That! Note
We know what you’re thinking. “Do I really need to be told to set out olives when company comes?” Or, if you’re one of those overachieving types of home cooks, perhaps you’re thinking something more along the lines of “Olives are a terribly unimaginative thing to plonk on the table when it comes time to pour apéritifs, don’t you think?” Yet there’s a reason setting out olives is customary in cultures as refined as Spain, Italy, France, and so forth throughout Europe. The pungent, astringent, briny-like-the-sea taste perfectly complements all manner of wine and spirits. It also literally whets the appetite and, we find, teases the palate. Olives straight up are always acceptable—and traditional, mind you—yet if you’re one of those aforementioned overachieving types, consider this elegant yet almost effortless herb-infused approach.
- 1 orange preferably organic
- 5 small garlic cloves peeled if desired
- 1 cup Empeltre or other cured black olives
- 1 cup Arbequina or other small cured green olives
- 1 cup Manzanilla olives (large green olives also known as “Spanish” olives)
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 sprigs thyme broken up with your fingers
- 2 sprigs rosemary broken up with your fingers
- 1 cup Spanish extra-virgin olive oil preferably an Arbequina variety
- 2 tablespoons Marcona almonds (optional)
- Coarse sea salt to taste
- Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the orange. Halve and squeeze the orange over a small bowl to release as much juice as possible.
- Smash the garlic cloves by placing them on a chopping board and pressing down hard with the heel of your hand, the bottom of a cast-iron skillet, or the flat side of a chef’s knife. Place the garlic, olives, bay leaves, thyme, and rosemary in a large bowl and add the olive oil and the orange zest and juice. Mix well.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and marinate at room temperature for no more than 4 hours or refrigerate at least overnight and up to 1 week.
- When you’re ready to serve the olives, garnish with the almonds, if using, and a sprinkle of sea salt. You want to consume the olives within a week of preparing them—chances are that will pose no problem at all.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
Easy, fast, and adaptable! I found the Lucques, Nicoise, and Picholine olives, then substituted Kalamata for the Nyons. The Nyons were not readily available to me, so I followed the headnote that this recipe could be made with my favorite olives and herbs. I stuck with the lemon and thyme combination for my first batch, perfect for this olive combination and for the summer party I brought them to as a hostess gift.
This recipe makes a lot: the 4 1/2 cups was abundantly plentiful as a gift, and I’d likely make a half batch next time, unless I was hosting a very large gathering myself. In addition to being able to switch out the olives and herbs, I think the caperberries could also be switched out for capers, large or small. I also used a delicious but fairly generic extra-virgin olive oil and would think about that choice next time as well: I’ve seen some citrus-infused (both lemon and orange) olive oils and would like to try these, for example, effectively doubling the impact of the citrus flavor in the marinade. One other benefit of this as a hostess gift was that it traveled well and, since it is now summer, is not easily perishable. I also believe this could hold well in the refrigerator, and could therefore be made well in advance of when it is needed, either for a gathering at home or away. Another huge benefit for the busy among us!
Originally published December 29, 2010