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Olives: The Multitasking Fruit


Olives are everywhere: swirling around in crystal martini glasses, pressed into luxurious extra-virgin oil used by Michelin chefs, and even on the coat of arms of the United States: recognizable on the cover of your passport and other official documents, the American eagle clutches an olive branch with 13 leaves, representing the 13 original colonies. Many people also use olive oil on their skin and hair as part of their beauty regimes — a ritual that may have started with Cleopatra. Or whip up a batch of homemade furniture polish by using the least expensive olive oil at the market, some white vinegar and a few drops of essential oil for scent, and watch as your scuff marks polish away. There are so many ways to use this impressive fruit.

Some of the more popular types of olives are kalamatas, the glistening dark purple almond-shaped found in Greek salads; Alfonso olives from South America, opaque purple in color with meaty flesh; manzanilla, Spanish for “little apples;” the itty-bitty Niçoise of  “salade niçoise” fame; cerignolas from Italy in shades of vivid green and brilliant red; and mission and ascolano olives, which can be enjoyed here in the U.S., no passport needed.

Green Olive Pesto Roast Chicken

(Serves 4)

Ask the butcher to cut the whole chicken into eight parts and discard the wing tips.

For the Pesto:
1 cup jarred green olives stuffed with pimentos, drained
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the Chicken:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 stick butter, cut into 8 slices
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup white wine 
4-5 pound whole chicken, cut up
1 navel orange
Salt and pepper to taste

To make the pesto:
Pulse green olives, olive oil, garlic, and salt in a mini food processor until just processed. The texture should be coarse, and not too smooth. 

To make the chicken:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a heavy, oven-proof 12-inch skillet, heat olive oil and 2 slices butter until melted. Sauté chopped onions for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring often. Add 1/4 cup white wine, and then continue to sauté for 3-4 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Trim any excess fatty skin from chicken pieces and freeze for future use. Gently loosen the skin of the breasts, thighs and drumsticks by sliding your finger between the skin and the meat, forming small open pockets. Using your fingers, stuff the pockets with green olive pesto. Distribute the pesto more evenly underneath the skin by gently patting down the skin from the outside. Don't worry if the pesto is not perfectly smooth — it will smooth out while roasting. Arrange the chicken pieces skin side up over the onions in the skillet. The pieces can touch, but do not overlap. Add remaining white wine. Dot chicken with remaining butter. Cut orange in half, leaving the rind on, then cut into ½-inch semi-circular slices. Arrange orange slices between the chicken pieces — but not on top, otherwise the skin will not brown. Lightly salt and pepper. Roast, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Check the thickest part of the chicken breast for doneness, and return to oven for a few more minutes if needed. Set broiler to high and broil for the last 2-3 minutes to brown the skin. Transfer to a serving dish. Skim excess oil from the surface of the pan juices, and then pour them over the chicken.

Chef Tip:



Olives are often used as a garnish in the quintessential martini, whether the martini be vodka or gin. The olive brine is also an ingredient in a dirty martini. Olives can also be used in more savory cocktails, such as a bloody mary. The most common olive used is a Spanish green olive. The fun part is stuffing the olives with items such as blue cheese, garlic, pimento, jalapeño — really, anything goes. Other olives can be used in martinis; a martini with a black olive garnish is known as a buckeye martini. There really aren't any rules— use whatever olive you prefer. The most important thing to remember is not to use olives packed in oil, because it would leave an oily film in the drink.