over easy

I’ve Been Eating Olives Wrong My Whole Life

Snacks, warm. Photo: Madeleine Aggeler

Over Easy is a weekly food column by a 20-something woman who can barely cook an egg and just wants to learn how to throw together an elegant three-course meal for her friends.

There are few things more disorienting than realizing you’ve been doing something incorrectly your whole life, like saying “for all intensive purposes” instead of “for all intents and purposes,” or dating people who describe themselves as “free spirits”. What else have I been messing up? you wonder. Do I see the same colors as everyone else? Is there such a thing as objective reality? These were some of the questions I had to grapple with this week, after someone asked me how I eat olives.

The question immediately put me on guard. Surely it was a trick, I thought. Or worse, a pun, and if the answer was something like, “You eat olive them!” I would be absolutely furious. But no, it was a genuine inquiry, one that was followed up with, “Do you ever eat warm olives?”

I had not. I love olives in all their brilliant forms — the fruit, the oil, the branch, when extended — but I had never, in my memory, had a warm olive, unless you count the warm bits in olive bread (which are very good). Was I missing out? Was there a whole olive dimension I wasn’t enjoying because I was trapped by my conception of olives as a cold, oily cocktail party snack? What other foods was I missing out on the full potential of?

To explore the new world of possibilities suggested by this conversation, I decided to make sautéed olives from Susie Theodorou’s new cookbook, Mediterranean, as well as Salad in a Jar’s recipe for “Warm and Toasty Nuts with Rosemary and Shallots” (which originally appeared in Martha Stewart’s Hor D’oeuvres Handbook).

Ideally, I would have made these warm and toasty snacks on a weekend, and then had a bunch of friends over to enjoy them, along with some interesting wines and stinky cheeses. But the question wasn’t posed to me until Monday morning, so I found myself preparing these elevated hors d’oeuvres on Monday evening, after work, by myself. It was, perhaps, a little sad.

I started with the nuts. (In retrospect, this was a mistake — as I later discovered, the olives hold their heat longer.) First, as per Martha’s recipe, I preheated the oven to 350 degrees, and then poured some cashews, pecans, and almonds into a cake pan (my baking sheets are still, mysteriously, missing — please contact me if you find them) and toasted them for 10 minutes. This alone was a revelation. Warm nuts taste indulgent, like you’re sitting in first class on a plane, before the Xanax kicks in, or at a spa, before the Xanax kicks in. They make you feel like you should be lounging in a waffle robe on top of a down comforter, or buying a yacht, or something else extremely fancy (counting bricks of gold?).

Next, I sliced two shallots and three cloves of garlic lengthwise, and then fried them in olive oil until they were brown, for about four minutes. Because we had run out of paper towels, I set them to dry on a torn up brown paper bag, which worked okay.

I then melted two tablespoons of unsalted butter and mixed in ¼ cup of fresh, chopped rosemary, ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper, a tablespoon of brown sugar, and a tablespoon of salt, then poured the mixture over the warm nuts and stirred in the shallots and garlic.

The result was incredible.

At first I ate a couple of nuts at a time — just to sample them before making the olives — but then, unable to control myself, I grabbed a spoon and began shoveling the sweet, salty, herby mix into my mouth, like a hungry traveler who hadn’t eaten in days, instead of a well-fed blogger who had already eaten, depending on how you count them, three to five meals that day.

Finally, I managed to tear myself away and make the olives. I chose to use Castelvetrano olives, because Theodorou wrote that the “plump, pale green olive from Sicily is very much in vogue right now, and with its fleshy texture and briny flavour, it’s one of my favorites to use in recipes.”

To sauté them, I poured a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into the frying pan, heated it up, then added the olives and a sprig of rosemary. Theodorou suggests to “cook until they plump up” but mine didn’t seem to change size that much, so I cooked them for three to four minutes, taking them off the heat once I noticed the skin of several olives beginning to blister.

I poured the olives, the nuts, and crackers into some bowls, and sat down to enjoy them, by myself, with an old Sopranos episode. The sautéing made the olives’ flesh softer, silkier, and cooking them in olive oil brightened and enhanced their flavor. They were delightful. As I sat there eating and watching James Gandolfini strangle a man, I didn’t feel sad that I was enjoying this spread alone. It felt sumptuous, decadent, to have taken the time and made this for myself. And while it was difficult to face the reality that I had theretofore been living a half-life, with plain old room-temperature olives and nuts, at least now my future looked brighter, and much warmer.

My Report Card
Preparation: A-
Taste: A++
Sense of enlightenment: A+

My Overall Performance: A!

I’ve Been Eating Olives Wrong My Whole Life