In the basement there’s a treasure. No matter how much I despised trekking into the basement to fetch something for my mother, the truth was that a trip to the cantina (cellar) meant stepping into a magical room full of our favourite foods and a year’s (or more!) worth of work. Yellow lupini beans, red crushed tomatoes, brown mushrooms, all gleaming from behind their glass homes. One of our favourite cantina inhabitants was, and is, olives.
Calabrese cracked olives, named as such because of the way they are cracked (smashed, really) open, were always a staple in my house growing up. Served as a snack with soppresata, cheese, taralli and other antipasti, we stocked up on jars of this green gold in the cantina. The recipe for preserving olives is held mainly in the minds of older Italians, much like the recipe for preserving green tomatoes I shared here previously. You can find recipes online with a similar name, but they are often written in Italian and not quite the same.
In North America, green olives are picked at the end of September to about the middle of November. In Europe, the harvest is a bit later and into the winter. Preserving olives is another one of those food events that calls for a big gathering of family if you are going to make a lot, just like making sausages or canning tomatoes. Part social event, part necessity, Italian food preservation has always been an integral part of life for southern Italians. These days, the family gathering part is more important than the preserving, but the results – good food and some fun – are the same.
Some tips for this recipe: you’ll need some time and some patience, smashing the olives can get messy and don’t let the olives get brown or mushy at any point, then they’ll lose their taste and allure. Finally, be sure to add these to your pantry or cantina collection, for olive lovers this is a great way to have a fresh olive taste all year around.
Calabrese Cracked Olives (Olive Schiacciate)
1 case green olives
1 lb salt (1 box)
2-3 tbsp dried oregano
2-3 tbsp dried basil
1 tbsp granulated garlic
hot pepper flakes to taste
Select a case of olives where the fruits are still firm and are a medium-large. If the olives are very fresh, you may need to allow them to sit for a few days in a cool place such as a cantina or garage. The olives are ready to process when they break open easily with a bit of pressure.
Rinse the olives and prepare a workspace that you don’t mind getting a bit dirty. Word to the wise: fresh olive juices/oils turn black quickly so protect your hands with rubber gloves and your table or counter with plastic.
Smash the olives with your tool of choice (a rock, the flat end of a meat tenderizer, the bottom of a can or a pot). You’ll want to crack the olive enough to pop the pit out, but try not to break the olive in half so that you end up with two pieces.
Drop the olives immediately into a large bucket of water as you pit them. When you are done pitting change the water the olives are sitting in two to three times. This rinsing removes the initial sourness from the olives.
With fresh water, fill the bucket up until the olives are covered. Pour in salt and mix well. Place a large plate that fits snugly into the bucket opening so that it sits right on top of the olives, pushing them down. The goal here is to keep the olives under the water so they don’t oxidize and turn a brownish colour.
Let the olives sit for 7 to 10 days, stirring occasionally. After seven days, taste the olives. They will be salty but should be free of the terrible taste of fresh olives and still crunchy and plump. If you find the olives leave a bitter aftertaste, wait a few more days before removing them.
When the olives are ready, remove them from the bucket and place them in fresh water, agitating them a few times. Rinse the olives this way three times in order to remove any residual salt. Drain.
Place the olives in a vegetable press to remove the excess water they may be holding. If you don’t have a vegetable press, place them in a colander with a heavy weight on top of them to push the water out. This process may take 15-20 minutes.
The olives are now ready for seasoning. Toss with olive oil (enough to coat them) and seasonings: fennel, oregano, basil, garlic powder and hot pepper flakes. Place the olives in jars, being sure to fill them well and not leave any air pockets and leaving about an inch of space to the top of the jar. Top the olives with olive oil, being sure to cover them completely. Cap and store in a cool place. Serve as part of an antipasto platter, as part of a salad or as a snack with crusty bread and a glass of wine.