Tuesday, January 22, 2008

“Happiness is.....finding two olives in your martini when you're hungry.” ~ Johnny Carson

I love all kinds of olives. I like black olives from the can, just plain or sliced in potato salad. I like Kalamata olives in Greek salad or in Puttanesca with pasta. I like green olives in Moroccan Chicken with onions, saffron and lemon.

In 1994, Tom and I moved onto a 10-acre farm and lived there until 2007. We were a pretty good distance from the restaurants, grocery stores and other amenities we were used to having close by when we lived in a city, but we continued dining out once or twice a week for a couple of years until it became more of a burden to drive the long distances (30+ miles) than a pleasure and we started cooking more at home.

Friday nights became our appetizer evenings. Rather than cook a whole meal, we'd make a couple of appetizers and leisurely nibble away at them with a glass of wine. We love the combination of baked brie, paté and fruit. Tom created a shrimp spread with herbed cheese and spicy steamed shrimp. We like Buffalo wings with blue cheese dressing; all kinds of cheeses; butter baked shrimp; goat cheese with truffled mushrooms and caramelized onion; escargot; and far too many other things to list. And, we are always on the lookout for something new and interesting.

A few years ago, I was watching tv and saw this olive dish served at a party. I immediately went to my computer to print the recipe, but when I decided to share it here I had to go searching again for the source. After reading the original recipe on FineLiving.com, I realized that we have, once again, changed it significantly to suit our tastes.

The olives develop a lovely roasted flavor and the olive oil becomes infused with the flavors of the balsamic vinegar, thyme, fennel and orange, with a little heat from the red pepper flakes. We serve these olives in small bowls with crunchy French bread for dipping into the oil.

I have increased the recipe for a party sized portion and the olives store very well in the refrigerator for up to a week as long as you remove the oranges.

Slow Roasted Olives with Fennel and Orange
Adapted by Terri Powers from Fineliving.com

2 lbs. mixed olives with pits
2 oranges, unpeeled and sliced into 1/8-inch circles
1 cup whole almonds with skin
2 fennel bulbs
3 bay leaves
1 handful of fresh thyme sprigs
1/2 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon ground fennel
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
A little extra balsamic and olive oil

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

Put the olives in a large bowl. Add the almonds. Shred the thyme leaves from the sprigs and add to the olives. Cut the stalks off of the fennel bulbs and cut the layers of the bulbs into bite-sized pieces a little larger than the olives and add to the bowl. Add the red pepper flakes, bay leaves and 1 tablespoon of the ground fennel. Now add the vinegar and oil. Mix well and transfer the entire mixture to a 13x9 inch baking pan and distribute evenly.

Arrange the orange slices flat on top of the olive mixture. Sprinkle each slice lightly with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Then sprinkle the remaining teaspoon of ground fennel evenly over the slices.

Baked, uncovered, for about 2 hours until the oranges are slightly brown and caramelized.

Serve barely warm or at room temperature with assorted cheeses. You can drain the oil for use as a bread dip, or serve the olive mixture, as we do, in the oil spooned onto individual appetizer plates or bowls with crusty bread and cheese.

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