Except the vine, there is no plant which bears a fruit of as great importance as the olive.
It must have been our Eastern European Jewish culture, but we were an olive and pickle-loving family. Our refrigerator was always overflowing with glass jars chock full of briny things of every type and kind: olives green and black, thick, crunchy slices of green tomatoes, chilly, crispy sour kraut, spicy hot peppers and tiny cocktail onions. And the pickles! Half-sour, dill, tiny sweet gherkins and those crinkle-cut hamburger slices, just sweet enough with that sour afterbite. Chips, slices, wedges, spears, halves, whole and even relish, we just couldn’t get enough, or so it seemed. Scoops of olives eaten like candy graced the dinner table, or the perfect buffet item, each glistening orb of lusciousness graced with its own toothpick, olives with the pit still in that one had to nibble around with the front teeth like little chipmunks, or olives pitted and stuffed with bright red pimento, the best to accompany a favorite sandwich. The occasional and much-anticipated trip to Miami to visit our Uncle Eli would always include lunch at Wolfie’s where he worked for a while, or those summer vacations in New York to visit mom’s family would invariably find us for at least one meal at some Kosher deli. And what stays in the memory more than any other about these wonderful trips to these bastions of Eastern European Jewish cooking? The tiny aluminum or fluted white ceramic bowl in the center of every table full to overflowing with a choice selection of pickles and olives, an unlimited supply ours for the asking!
Riding high on the briny wave of olive and pickle love, I joined lives and began a brand new culinary adventure with a Frenchman who brought with him into our union jars upon jars of tiny, slim, crispy French cornichons of deep forest green, just two tiny bites needed to finish each off. I fell in love with these sharp, luscious pickles, served and eaten so simply with slices of fresh baguette topped with butter or pâté. Grab the red plastic ring and pull and up will come a dozen or so oblong cornichons on a tray, yours for the picking. And if you are so lucky, grab one tiny, perfectly round, pearly white orb of an onion nestled amongst the green and *crunch* savor the sharpness in one lip-puckering bite. Later on we will, together, hand in hand, discover and bring home big, fat jars of big, fat Malossols à la Russe or espy and partake of the huge barrel hidden behind the counter at Joe Goldenberg’s Jewish delicatessen in Paris where one must know to ask for the fabulous plump kosher dills floating lazily in the brine.
And olives! Our own Mercato Wagner in the center of Milan boasted The Olive Man, a handsome vendor with movie star looks who would wield his ladle at our bidding and scoop down into the trays or bins of whatever we were in the mood for that day. Standing close to the chilly glass case, nose practically pressed up against the pane, we would ogle, ponder, hesitate as we tried to decide between all of the flavors offered. And it was here that I discovered and fell madly in love with Olive Dolce, known in France as Olive Lucque, beautiful cured green sweet olives rather than salty or sour.
And the next generation, inheriting our own tastes yet forming their own briny habit, grew to love the pungent, salty, snappy flavors of these bite-sized treats! More olive than pickle men, our sons grew up eating bowl after bowl of the green, black, brown and violet, salty, spicy, tangy, marinated in lemon or basil, garlic or hot peppers, stuffed with pimento, almonds, anchovies (okay, only I love the anchovy-stuffed olives), on pizza or in tagines, they can never get enough! Trips to the grocery store find our basket filled with jars upon jars of them, excursions to the market and we haggle with each other over our choice as we stand patiently in line, often compromising by selecting two different type olives. And maybe a barquette of olive tapenade. And some marinated baby artichokes. You see my point? But let those boys make their own lunch or dinner, grilled cheese or peanut butter sandwich, breaded chicken cutlet or a juicy beef burger, and that jar or plastic sachet of olives will find itself hugged close to their plate, spoon digging down into the faintly murky liquid searching for each gem, those olives eaten one after the next like French fries and by the end of that meal the jar would be, yes, empty.
And then there is Olive Bread!
I would say to housewives, be not daunted by one failure, nor by twenty. Resolve that you will have good bread, and never cease striving after this result till you have effected it. If persons without brains can accomplish this, why cannot you?
- Housekeeping in Old Virginia, Marion Cabell Tyree, 1878
- Housekeeping in Old Virginia, Marion Cabell Tyree, 1878
This month’s Bread Baking Day #38 is hosted by my friend Cinzia of Cindystar Blog and she is having a No-Knead Festival! I first made a no-knead bread with my lovely friend Clare on one of her visits and I was simply astounded at what a fabulous, gorgeous bread could come out of no-knead dough! And then I bought Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg, M.D. (fellow Penn alum!) and how I adore no-knead bread! It comes out perfect every single time! I have used their recipes for making fabulous perfect Challah and their Olive Oil Dough for both my Olive, Sun-Dried Tomato and Pine Nut Focaccia and my fabulous Stuffed Focaccia (filled with roasted tomatoes, rocket, chorizo and mozzarella).
It has been much too long since I baked for Bread Baking Day, one of my favorite food blogging events created by my lovely friend Zorra but BBD #38 has me back, for I could not resist baking a No-Knead Bread. And I have returned to our favorite, the Olive Oil Dough and made Olive Bread. Simply divine! What better way to share my love of both olives and bread than this wonderful, dense, tender loaf chock full of big, fat, juicy, plump, salty black Greek olives? Mmmm.
The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight.
- M. F. K. Fisher
- M. F. K. Fisher
And I share this fabulous, tender, flavorful loaf with Susan of Wild Yeast and Yeastspotting!
NO-KNEAD OLIVE OIL DOUGH
Makes enough dough for four 1-pound loaves. Perfect for pizza, focaccia or olive bread.
2 ¾ cup (650 ml) lukewarm water
¼ cup (50 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ Tbs (15 g) active dry yeast
1 ½ Tbs salt
1 Tbs sugar
6 ½ cups (975 g) flour (I used read flour type 55, you can use all-purpose)
Combine the yeast, salt and sugar in a very large mixing bowl or a lidded (not air-tight) food container. Add the olive oil and the lukewarm water.
Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon (although you can use a food processor with a dough attachment or a heavy-duty standing mixer with a dough hook) until completely blended. If you have trouble getting the last bit of flour to blend in you can use your wet hands.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (not air tight) and allow to stand at room temperature for 2 hours, until the dough has risen and then collapses or flattens on top.
The dough can now be used immediately or stored in the bowl covered with plastic wrap or a lidded (not air tight) container for up to 2 weeks. It is easier to work with when chilled.
Slightly adapted to my own desires!
1-pound (500 g – size of a grapefruit) portion of the Olive Oil Dough
¼ cup high-quality pitted olives
About 1 Tbs Zahatar seasoning (dried ground Zahatar, sesame seeds, spices, salt, olive oil)
Olive oil for brushing the loaf
Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut out a grapefruit-sized piece. Using a rolling pin on a floured work surface, flatten the dough to a thickness of ½ inch. Spread the olives evenly over the surface, leaving about an inch around the edges olive free. Dust with about half the Zahatar, if you desire. Roll the dough up around the olives and shape it into a smooth ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball as you go. Place the ball of dough on a parchment or oven-paper lined baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic and allow to rest for 1 hour. It will rise slightly.
Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). Gently brush the entire surface of the dough with olive oil and dust with the remaining Zahatar. Make slashes across the top of the bread using a serrated or very sharp bread knife. Bake the bread for about 35 minutes until a deep golden brown.