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Authentic Southern Italian Cuisine
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Olives: An Italian Essential

February 4, 2012 Carlino's Restaurant no comments

Italian food has turned the humble tomato into the star of dozens of dishes, but another savory fruit plays an essential supporting role: the olive.

Whether it’s the ripe black olives on your pizza, the briny green olives in your salad or the bright flavor of olive oil that underscores almost every Italian dish, Italian cuisine wouldn’t be the same without olives.

The warm Mediterranean climate is ideal for olive trees, making them a vital part of cultures throughout the area. Olives are a link to Italy’s past in the literal sense as well as the figurative. Long-lived olive trees still produce fruit after hundreds of years; the oldest trees still producing olives began their lives during the days of the Roman Empire.

While the trees grow throughout the region, some of the most prized oils in the world flow from Italian olive groves.  Selective cultivation and breeding over centuries has produced lively Frantoio and mellow Leccino varieties.

Connoisseurs of olive oils describe Frantoio oils as peppery and green, while Leccino oils are smooth and buttery.

Italian growers also process whole fruits as well as pressing olives for oil. All olives, whether green or black, require curing before they’re good to eat. Unripe green olives go through longer processing, while black olives typically just need a soak in oil or brine to remove any bitterness. Cerignola, Gaeta and Liguria olives are the most beloved Italian varieties, but Italy produces countless other whole olive products with dozens of brine, oil or spice cures.

If you crave a taste of Italy’s history, order your pizza with extra olives. Chicken cacciatore combines succulent black olives with mushrooms, onions and plum tomatoes in a rustic dish. Hand-picked, tree-ripened Gaeta olives give Carlino’s spaghetti puttanesca its piquancy. Olive oil lends richness to simmered sauces and extra flavor to panini. Olives and olive oil are good for your health too, so indulge without guilt in these quintessentially Italian delights.

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