First, I just have to say that there are few subjects sexier or more fun to photograph than olives. Does that sound crazy? Seriously, just look at them! What could be more wonderful than an olive? When I was a kid, I hated olives, probably because most of the olives available in small-town USA during the 1970's were of the heinous canned variety or the very cheaply bottled variety. I might as well have been chewing on pencil erasers.
But then one night at a dinner party in my twenties I tried my first real, imported Kalamata olives. Oh, what I'd been missing all those years! This soon led to Gaetas and Alfonsos and Picholines and . . . well, I never looked back. Olives and I have been in a love affair ever since.
So in honor of these little gems, I thought I'd share a very simple but beautiful recipe for olive al forno. The ingredients are few, but the resulting flavors are sophisticated and multi-layered. That's the beauty of cooking with olives. This recipe comes from Michele Scicolone's A Fresh Taste of Italy, a book I adore, and I've made this many times with different kinds of olives. Today I had Kalamatas on hand, and that seemed just right, since they were the ones that started this whole romance for me. The recipe sings dinner party, cocktail party, movie snack--even kids who don't like olives will probably like this because the olives become velvety and sweet. Sigh.
Roasted Olives with Fennel & Lemon
8 ounces imported black olives
4 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 lemon, scrubbed and thinly sliced
1/4 cup of your favorite olive oil
1 teaspoon fennel seed
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
2. Toss all the ingredients together in an 8-inch baking pan. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring a few times.
3. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve warm or room temperature, alone or with crusty bread. In addition to the luscious olives, the lemons taste divine, the garlic is soft and caramelized (sometimes I leave it in its skin before roasting, and then just pop it out and spread it on bread with a little of the leftover oil drizzled over the top).
These keep in the fridge for about a week, but you'll probably eat them all well before that!