Fried Green Olives
Adapted from The Southern Italian Table by Arthur Schwartz.
- Servings: 6 to 8.
In my cookbook, The City Cook: Big City, Small Kitchen, Limitless Ingredients, No Time, I have a recipe for fried stuffed olives that I first ate at a tiny restaurant in the Tuscan hill town of Assisi. In that recipe a savory paste of ground veal and pork sausage replaces the conventional pimento in a big green olive, which is then coated in breadcrumbs and fried. I remember the first bite taken at that inspiring lunch in Assisi and how I never looked at an olive in the same way since.
I still love that recipe for its amazing flavor and complexity, but I will admit that it is a lot of work to make as an appetizer to go with an aperitivo when you also have the rest of a meal to cook.
But Arthur Schwartz's The Southern Italian Table, a favorite cookbook of mine, has a simpler alternative. In his version, which he attributes to pizzerias in southern Italy, a plain coating of breadcrumbs transforms a green olive into something irresistible.
If you can't find pitted green olives, you can buy ones that have been pitted and stuffed (with pimientos or almonds or garlic or cheese), saving you the trouble of having to do so, and either leave the stuffing in place or just discard it (I'd leave it).
An important instruction: be sure to use really good and flavorful olives. I once unfortunately made this recipe using what were touted as fancy ones stuffed with blue cheese, but as it turned out, they had no taste. And they didn't get any better after being fried -- all I could taste was the olives' salty brine. So sample olives before buying. Also, while it might go without saying, do not use ones with pits or else all your guests will be sending you their dentist bills.
Please do not use canned olives. For this or for anything. Ever.
For the breadcrumbs, don't use anything seasoned or fresh. I buy the plain unflavored breadcrumbs at Whole Foods, which are perfect for this recipe (once opened, I store the covered container in the refrigerator).
I always make more than I think will be eaten because no matter how many, there are never enough.
- 1 large egg
- 3/4 cup all purpose flour
- 3/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs (unseasoned)
- 24 large, pitted green olives, with or without stuffing
- Vegetable or canola oil for frying, about 1/3 cup depending on the size of your skillet
- Set up a trio of small bowls or other shallow containers. In one place the flour. In the second, the egg, beaten until well mixed. In the third, place the breadcrumbs.
- If the olives have been in a brine, shake off any excess.
- Set up an assembly line by putting the olives first in the flour, rolling them to completely coat the surface. Then put the floured olives into the egg, again rolling the olives to coat. And finally, put the egg-coated olives into the breadcrumbs and coat completely.
- Shake off any excess crumbs and place the coated olives on a plate. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, uncovered. You can prepare the olives up to this point and keep them refrigerated for up to three hours and then fry them just before serving, making them a convenient hors d'oeuvre.
- Place about 1/4-inch canola or other flavorless vegetable oil into a large skillet. Place over high heat until the oil shimmers. Add the olives and lower the heat to medium, high enough so that the olives sizzle and begin to brown but not risk burning. Put as many olives into the pan so that they can cook without crowding. Turn them as they brown; I use the combination of a pair of tongs and a single chopstick to help turn them and help them brown on all surfaces, 2 or 3 minutes.
- Drain on a piece of paper towel.
- Serve immediately.