Friday, May 20, 2011

Ode to the Olive

I have friends who don't like olives, and as much as I try to be open-minded, it makes me question our friendship.  I mean, how could you possibly not LOVE olives?  They are little flavor grenades that are not only good for you, but they aren't fattening.  It doesn't get any better than that.  Even my friends who don't like chocolate (and I can assure you there aren't many) can at least legitimately argue that the stuff goes straight from your mouth to your hips.  But not olives.

When I was kid, there were pretty much two kinds of olives:  the fat black canned ones or the green ones stuffed with pimentos.  Both have done their damage to the olive's reputation.  The black ones were essentially flavorless, but figure fondly in my memory only because you could stick one on each finger and pretend you had long black fingernails; conversely, the green ones freaked me out--my parents would stab them with a toothpick and plunge them into gin, which when you're 10 looks and smells exactly like formaldehyde.  The skewered olives would then sort of bob around staring at me from inside the glass like bloodshot green eyeballs. 
Scary.  I had a hard time processing that grown-ups would actually eat them.  Still do for that matter.  Fortunately, both types have been essentially relegated to permanent wall-flower status what with the incredible variety of olives that now abounds: kalamata, greek, garlic-stuffed, cheese-stuffed (sort of ruins the low-fat quality, but oh-so-worth it), the various olives spreads and bruchettas, and recipes like the one featured here that uses all of the above.  

This tart pairs kalamata olive spread and chopped black and green olives with carmelized onions and goat cheese.  It's the brain child of a chef named Todd English and it completely rehabilitates the reputation of the olive.  Indeed, Mr. English loves olives so much he named his flagship restaurant "Olives" (not to be confused with, ugh, "The Olive Garden"--a restaurant doing it's best to sully the name.) The butter content of this dish pretty much negates the low-fat value of the olives, but I like to rationalize that at least it's healthier than chocolate.

Olive Tart
By Todd English

1.  Prepare the tart shell by blending in a food processor 2 1/4 cups flour, 3 tsps sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt.  Next add 1/2 cup cold water, and pulse again.  While the processor is running, add 16 Tbs of cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces until the dough comes together.   Try not to freak out at the amount of butter; the dough will usually begin to bind after about 8 Tbs--the rest is pretty much gratuitous, and I usually stop at about 12 Tbs.

2.  Remove the dough, form it into a ball and refrigerate for 20 minutes.  This step is actually pretty critical.  With all of that butter, the dough rapidly turns into a gooey mess if it isn't cold.

3.  Remove your mascara, and then peel and thinly slice 4 large Vidalia or Sweet Mayan onions.  

4.  If you neglected to remove your eye make-up, go to the bathroom and wash your face because I guarantee after slicing the onions your face is now streaked with mascara from your tearing eyes.

5.  Heat a large skillet over medium heat with about 1 Tbs olive oil--enough to coat the pan.  The actual recipe calls for butter, but I am trying to save calories where I can here.  Add the thinly sliced onions. 

6.  Lower the heat, and cook the onions until they are golden brown, stirring frequently.  Mr. English's recipe states that this will take about 10-12 minutes.  He lies.  This part has never taken me less than 40 minutes.  The goal here is to carmelize the onions.  You want to bring out their natural sugars and if the heat is too high you will simply char them.  Better to slow it down and get it right.  When the onions are done they taste like candy.  Really.

7. Remove the dough from the refrigerator.  Lightly dust a work surface and roll the dough out to fit half of a baking sheet.  Or--just lightly dust your hands and press the dough out with the heel of your hands.  The dough has so much butter that as soon as it gets the slightest bit warm, the dough just sticks to the rolling pin.

8. Spread one 4.5 oz. jar of prepared kalamata olive paste onto the dough.  It's sort of like spreading sauce on a pizza, except that the olive paste is a bit thicker. 

9.  Add an even layer of the now cooked and cooled onions.  Sprinkle with 1 cup chopped black and green olives, 8 oz. of crumbled goat cheese, and 2 Tbs chopped fresh rosemary.

10.  Bake for 20-25 minutes in an oven preheated to 450 degrees until the dough is golden brown.  Serve either warm or at room temperature.

One parting thought:  I have, on occasion, made a facsimile of this dish by spreading the carmelized onions into a small serving dish, and then topping with the olive paste, chopped olives, goat cheese, and rosemary, and serving it as a dip with crackers, i.e. no tart.   Ultimately, I decided that 10 crackers basically equals a 4-inch square of the tart, so I bagged it, because the tart is so much more elegant.  If, however, the butter content of the dough truly offends you, crackers is an option.


  1. My three-year-old son walked up as I was reading your blog, and when he saw the picture of bleu cheese stuffed olives, he said, "That looks yummy." Then he asked me what it was called, and when I told him that they were olives, he replied, "Um, I don't think I like that."

    Scott Dack

  2. A freidnship does not rely on olives alone.