Friday, November 26, 2010

Heirloom Foods: The Complete Guide to Making Calabrian Olives

My home-cured Calabrian-style olives on the day I jarred them, Nov. 2010.
Here it is at long last, The Complete Guide to Making Calabrian Olives... at least as far as I understand it.  This recipe came to me in parts via Louis Marchesano and Lisa Anne Auerbach.  I hope I've done it justice.  And I hope they'll let me know if I haven't.  Along the way, they made me a series of great videos, which is ESD's first video tutorial.  Thanks again, Lisa and Louis, for all the instruction.  I hope the Calabrian olive-making process will live on through our readers!

Step 1:  Smash the olives to loosen the pit.

Step 2:  Put the smashed olives in a bowl and cover them with water for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.  Soaking in water will loosen the pit from the olive and you will be able to remove it much more easily. 

Lisa's stained hands after taking the pits out of a lot of olives.
Step 3:  Take out the pit.  Pretty self-explanatory, although it does take a while.  I learned that it's best to do this standing up with the containers at a comfortable height.  Otherwise your back will be killing you by the time you finish.  And of course, your hands will be stained no matter what you do!  Watch the video for proper technique.

Step 4:  After taking out the pit, put the olives in a large container and cover with water.  Change the water twice a day for about a week.  The olives will start to turn brown and so will the water you pour off of them.  According to Lisa you need to check to see if they're ready.  She says, "Taste them, the bitterness should be largely gone, but if there is a bit of bitterness it's ok. They should not get mushy though so don't leave them in the water for too long... it is a delicate balance."  (I think I screwed this part up.  At first I wasn't changing the water twice a day.  And then I think I might have left them in the water a little too long.  They weren't mushy and they weren't bitter, but they weren't very flavorful either.  Live and learn.)

Step 5:  Press the water out of the olives.  Lisa and Louis broke down and bought a food press (really an apple cider press) to deal with their enormous quantity of olives.  I did it the old-fashioned way... with a ricer.  It's important to get as much water out of the olives as you can.  I was afraid of crushing the olives at first, but after a while I realized that I could use every bit of strength I had, and the olives still kept their shape.

My jarring process.
Step 6:  Put the olives in jars.  Put all the olives you can squeeze into a clean, dry jar.  Add a clove of garlic, cut into 2 or 3 pieces.  Add  dried oregano, salt, and pepper to taste.  Dried crushed chili flakes or Calabrian peppers are also a nice addition if you like your olives spicy.  When I jarred my olives, I mixed the olives, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl with a bit of olive oil and poured it into a jar.  I packed the mixture down into the jar several times as I went along.  Lisa suggested that I overpack the jars, which I did.  Finally, add several inches of additional olive oil to the jar.  

Step 7:  Let the jars it out for 24 hours to absorb the flavors.  Put the jars into the refrigerator for storage.  When you want to eat your olives, take them out of the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for an hour before serving.  The olive oil from the bottom of the jar is especially good eaten on a chunk of torn (not cut!) bread.  Enjoy!

Thanksgiving Surprise- "The Cransquash"

Luca's photo of The Cransquash, November 2010.
A few days ago, my friend Luca Loffredo wished me a Happy Thanksgiving with a most welcome holiday gift-- a recipe for "The Cransquash."  Luca is not only a great photographer (he took the photo of me you see on this page) but a fantastic chef with an illustrious career in some of the finest restaurants in San Francisco and Los Angeles.  I was so excited to receive a new recipe from Luca that I decided to publish it... as I head off to buy dried cranberries to try it myself.  If you make "The Cransquash", let me know how you like it.

The Cransquash
By Luca Loffredo

  • 1.5 Pound Butternut squash peeled and cut into cubes
  • 2 Small onions, sliced julienne
  • 2 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 Cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 Cup packed parsley leaves
  • 1/2 Cup or more dried cranberries
  • 1 Cup of vegetable broth (or chicken, but it must be a very light broth)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • A drizzle of Balsamic syrup (optional)
  • After you hassled to peel the butternut squash, remove the seeds and cut into one-inch cubes.
  • Slice the onions julienne style (thin sliver lengthwise, just follow the natural lines of the onions).
  • Set a large saucepan with 2 tablespoons olive oil and onions over high heat. Sauté until soft and lightly translucent.
  • Add half of the butternut squash.  Stir and add the white wine, being careful to watch for the alcohol to flame up.
  • Deglaze until the wine is reduced to two thirds of it’s volume.
  • Add the remaining squash and the parsley leaves along with 1 cup broth.
  • Cover the pan and cook at medium heat until the butternut squash starts to soften. Stir frequently and check to make sure the mixture stays wet.  If you run out of broth, add hot water.
  • Once the squash is tender but not falling apart, increase the heat and remove the lid from the pan.
  • Add the cranberries, season with salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine ingredients.
  • Remove pan from heat and served garnished with more fresh parsley and a drizzle of balsamic syrup.
If you have leftover Cransquash, you can use it for a delicious homey pasta dish.  Just sauté a few slices of garlic with a bit of chili flakes.  Add the squash mixture and enough broth or water to cover the mixture. Bring to boil and add Fusilli pasta or broken spaghetti. Cook it until al “dente”, if necessary add more hot water. Serve with grated Parmigiano cheese.