It’s likely that many a grand idea has been chanced upon while enjoying a glass of vermouth and a plate of homemade olives, at least that’s what set the tone for me when I started writing my Spanish cookbook.
Olives are as close as a vegetable will ever come to joining the charcuterie board – are Mediterranean fundamentals and Spain produces some of the best. Salty, sweet and bitter, no Spanish table is complete without a bowl of these black and green gems.
I love the fluorescent green Campo Real, the bitter Caspe and the tiny Arbequina (the source of every real Spanish olive oil) and of course the meaty black Morta.
Curing homemade olives carried an appeal I couldn’t resist after moving into a Melbourne neighbourhood filled with Greek and Italian second-generation migrants. Their tomatoes competed with thick bushes of basil and shiny purple aubergines, and above them all towered weighty olive trees, from which thousands of the black and green berries would fall every summer.
Making do with what had fallen, and guiltily stripping several branches (I have made good with my conscience to justify my ongoing urban foraging), I found myself heaving a t-shirt-full back home, whereupon I began to fill my modest ground-floor apartment with jars of olives, curing with lemon peel, chilli, garlic, rosemary and coriander seeds. I nervously shared the results with my suspicious neighbours and was congratulated with a grudging smile and shake of the head at this brazen generosity that made good on the earlier crime.
First, for curing olives, make a brine by dissolving the sea salt in 4 litres of water in a large pan over a low heat. Once the salt has dissolved, remove the pan from the heat and let the brine cool.
Cut a tiny slit in the side of each olive. Be careful not to cut the pits, which if damaged will release a bitter chemical that will ruin the entire job. Tip the prepared olives into a sterilized glass jar (or two) and cover with the brine solution. Store the jar(s) in a cool, dark place (or at the back of the fridge if your house gets too hot) and turn over the olives once a day.
After a few weeks, begin taste-testing your homemade olives until they have reached the desired stage of curing (leave them longer if you want sweeter olives or remove them earlier if you like them bitter like me).
When you’re happy, drain the homemade olives, discarding any that have spoiled, then rinse with fresh water and leave to dry. Wash and sterilize the jars with boiling water and then leave them to dry. Fill the jars with the olives and top with olive oil and your choice of flavourings (lemon peel, bay leaves, rosemary, chilli peppers, garlic cloves, peppercorns or whatever you like).
Enjoy homemade olives the natural way and the oil for amazing flavoured dressing on green leaf salads or baked potatoes.