Homemade Olives and your Inner Mediterranean

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.

homemade olives

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.

homemade oliver

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).

homemade olives

Enjoy homemade olives the natural way and the oil for amazing flavoured dressing on green leaf salads or baked potatoes.

Combining food with watercolour to create delicious food illustrations

I’m always on the look-out for creative people that combine food with every form of art. Artists that create vibrant and almost edible food illustrations. Musicians that compose with the plate in mind, writers that blend the pleasure of eating with the intellectuality of prose, and photographers that let food be the basis of their work.

food illustrations

If you enjoy the wholesome act of cooking, the gluttony that goes with eating or simply the beauty that the earth and the sea provide, then you will appreciate artists like Kari Gale who illustrate with fine watercolour and pen. Her drawings have a distinctively natural raw style and prove the perfect contrast to the finely-filtered images that fill our collective visual memory. Read more

The Ultimate ‘Brain Freeze’ via Three Fresh Sorbet Recipes

Ice-cream is an evergreen, an all year rounder, but even in the heat of Spanish summer, it sometimes fails to take the edge off; melting as quickly as it’s scooped and doesn’t guarantee that ‘brain freeze‘ every gourmet seeks via icy treats. This is not the case with sorbet, which offers a white-hot icy coldness that can counter the midday sun. There are no tricks – it’s water, sugar, flavour and a freezer, and this clarity is exactly what I’m looking for in the middle of summer. Ice-cream is made to be licked and slurped – and can even be comforting in the depths of winter, while sorbet is seasonal and limited to the peak of summer when carved curls of sweet ice push you closer and closer towards that painfully good ‘brain freeze’.

sorbet recipes

As I sit here slowly melting in the Barcelona sun, sucking on mojito-flavoured ice-cubes and dangling my feet in the lukewarm Mediterranean, I’m dreaming up a few new flavours for my icy crush.

Honey and Thyme

No bee ever attacked a delicate petal only to have their hard labour strangled into molded yellow plastic tubes. The bears got it right all along; honey with its intoxicating sweetness deserves to be uncontrollably scooped from jars and licked from sticky paws. Read more

How to make Spanish Seafood Fumet, the Ultimate Seafood Stock

An Essential Recipe for Seafood Lovers

For anyone that loves seafood, this recipe is makes so many delicious dishes possible and mastering it is as easy as making stone soup. So how do you make Spanish Seafood Fumet, the ultimate seafood stock?

seafood fumet

Spanish Fumet, is an antidote for our times. For most of the world, fish stock comes in cubes and cartons, but in Spain, fumet comes from the heads and tails of the sea. Watching my adopted godmother Maria-Angeles prepare her fumet remains a culinary highlight that flashes back every time I feel like lazily turning to the packaged version. First, she warmed olive oil in a cast iron pot then added onions, leeks, carrots and bay leaves until starting to soften, then all manner of sea creatures were thrown in – prawn heads, baby crabs, monk fish tails, empty mussel shells and, perhaps most impressive, lobster claws, which every gourmet has hiding in the back of their fridge. With a flourish, she pitched in the final seasoning (lemon, white peppercorns and parsley), before covering with water and wine and bringing the pot to a simmer. When strained two hours later, the liquid could have easily passed as a soup, but instead formed the base of an arroz de sepia (squid rice) that left each grain bursting with the flavour of the ocean. Read more

Stuffed Piquillo Peppers, a Classic Spanish Tapa

Stuffed Piquillo Peppers are a classic Spanish tapa that deserves a story. Piquillo, deriving from the Spanish for ‘little beak’ are another classic tapa, but it wasn’t in a bar where I discovered these little red beaks. Road trips are best when planning is kept to a minimum and it was on one of these I found myself on hurtling through Catalonia towards the French border.

piquillo peppers

As hunger pangs intensified and the peanuts began to run low, we decided on an unplanned desperate picnic using the three aisles of the service station as the basis for the resulting feast. Prowling the aisles, I found a tin of piquillo peppers, manchego cheese, a miniature box of basil, a wedge of quince paste, a yellow plastic tub of allioli and a small jar of tuna escabeche. What transpired in the next 10 minutes was a picnic that when eaten on a random concrete bench looking out towards the postcard-like snow-capped Alps became etched in my memory. Read more