Olives escape martinis, make an entree

March 05, 1995|By John Willoughby | John Willoughby,Eating Well Magazine United Feature Syndicate

Remember when olives lay hidden away in the gourmet aisle of the supermarket, making only occasional sorties into martini territory or onto relish trays? Today, olives are out in the open, and not just as fashionable hors d'oeuvres; they are turning up in main courses everywhere. For chef Steve Johnson at Boston's Mercury Bar, who adds olives to braised rabbit, "They provide a kind of snap that makes all the other ingredients stand up and take notice."

Mr. Johnson's use of olives as a seasoning is hardly new, however. Eighteenth-century English recipes advised cooks to dress teals, pullets, capons, chickens and partridges with olives. In a 19th-century example of olives' power to transform a dish, a visitor to Claude Monet's home noted that the plain roast chicken was left untouched at lunch because a second chicken, cooked with olives in the Provencal style, drew all the attention.

The expanding appreciation of Mediterranean cuisines in general, and Italian in particular, has spurred American cooks to explore olives in all their briny, pungent variety. Many varieties and styles of olives are now available around the United States. "It's amazing what has happened over the past five years," says Sotiris Kitrilakis, president of Peloponnese Imports in Oakland, Calif. "The demand for olives has multiplied fivefold, and as the interest increases, more and more types are being brought into the country. We now carry twice as many as we did when we started nine years ago."

Salad of Avocado and Romaine

With Black Olive Dressing

In this Arabic-inspired fruit and vegetable combination adapted from "Big Flavors of the Hot Sun" (William Morrow, 1994), the flavor of black olives balances the richness of avocados, the tart sweetness of orange juice and the bite of onions.

Serves 4

3 tablespoons fresh orange juice

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup pitted Kalamata or other brine-cured black olives, coarsely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 teaspoon sugar

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 firm but ripe avocado, pitted, peeled and cut into thin wedges

1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced

1/2 head romaine lettuce, washed, dried and sliced into thin strips

In a small bowl, whisk together orange juice, olive oil, olives, garlic and sugar. Season with salt and pepper.

In a bowl, combine avocados and onions. Pour the olive dressing over the avocado mixture and toss lightly. Serve on a bed of sliced romaine.

Per serving: 200 calories; 3 grams protein; 20 grams fat; 9 grams carbohydrate; 155 milligrams sodium; 0 milligrams cholesterol.

Linguine With Grilled Shrimp

and Black Olives

In Italy, black olives are added to some pasta sauces, such as puttanesca, or to boldly flavored fish dishes.

Serves 4

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste

3/4 pound linguine

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

6 large garlic cloves, peeled, thinly sliced lengthwise

4 vine-ripened tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup brine-cured black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/2 cup freshly grated hard Italian cheese, such as Parmesan or Asiago (optional)

Prepare the grill. Thread shrimp onto skewers and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill over a medium-hot fire until just opaque throughout, 3 to 4 minutes per side.

Remove the shrimp from the skewers and cut each into 3 or 4 pieces. Set aside.

While the shrimp is grilling, cook linguine in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain but do not rinse.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until it just starts to brown, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, olives, the grilled shrimp and cooked linguine; cook, tossing, until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl, mix in the basil and season with pepper to taste. Top with cheese, if using, and serve.

Per serving: 612 calories; 38 grams protein; 19 grams fat; 79 grams carbohydrate; 532 milligrams sodium; 175 milligrams

cholesterol.

Green Bean Salad With Corn,

Basil and Black Olives

This easy and colorful summer salad, adapted from "Big Flavors of the Hot Sun," goes well with just about any entree. If they are available, use salt-cured black olives, which provide the best complement to the crisp, fresh vegetables.

Be sure to get very fresh beans and corn and blanch them just long enough to tenderize them and bring out their color.

Serves 8

2 pounds green beans, trimmed

3 ears of corn, shucked

1/2 small red bell pepper, finely chopped

1 small red onion, finely chopped

2/3 cup black olives, halved and pitted

1/3 cup chopped fresh basil

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Tabasco sauce to taste

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Fill another large pot half-full with ice water.

When the water in the first pot has reached a rolling boil, add HTC about half the green beans and blanch just until tender, 1 to 2 minutes, then immediately plunge them into the ice water.

Repeat with the rest of the beans.

Bring the water back to a boil. Add corn and blanch until tender but still crisp, about 3 minutes. Drain and immediately plunge into the ice water. Cut the kernels off the cobs.

In a large bowl, combine the beans, corn and all remaining ingredients; toss to mix well and serve.

Per serving: 200 calories; 5 grams protein; 14 grams fat; 21 grams carbohydrate; 208 milligrams sodium; 0 milligrams

cholesterol.

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