Since my mom was single until I turned 7, she would drag me along on her social engagements. Engagement is too formal a word; they were gatherings at someone’s “pad.” Candles were lit, incense was burned, smoke inhaled. Inevitably there’d be three or four scraggly kids, who’d divine the location of the television in a back room, where we’d watch Creature Feature late into the night. Tables in the living room were laden with cheap, filling food, and all the groovy sorts sat on the floor, on pillows, plates in lap. On one such occasion my mom hosted a crowd with a big pot of split pea soup, salad, garlic bread, and jugs of Gallo wine.
These pot lucks almost always included a bowl of canned, pitted California black olives. Hmmm. My favorite. I became notorious for filling half my plate with these jet jewels. I had to have at least enough to tip each finger. “Look, scary black claws!” I chortled, goofily scratching the air like Cat-Woman. “Hmm. Yummy black claws!” I thought, as I popped them in my mouth one-by-one. Salty, slightly bitter, a little rubbery—nasty to many, but delightful to me. These bead-like nibbles constituted my humble introduction to the Olive.
Forget ambrosia, people. True Olives are the food of the gods. Just look at the Mediterranean diet.
I’ve come a long way from my canned olive days, sampling widely in the varieties available from Calamata to Sicilian to Picholine to gorgonzola-stuffed. I drink martinis solely for the olives. Extra please. I’m the only one in the family who loves them. I’m waiting patiently for DH to acquire the taste. And DS’s response to the dry-cured olives I ate this afternoon? “Creepy.” (I have to confess, they were a little creepy. Closer to what Cat-Woman would look like today.)
A favorite way to serve olives? On a Salade Niçoise. With niçoise olives, bien sur. I enjoy Salade Niçoise many ways—authentically with oily canned tuna and anchovies—or the bastardized West Coast version—with fresh tuna. As a tribute to those Mission black olives, let’s put some flowers in our hair, and go the Cali-forn-i-ay way.
Serves 2 large entrees
10 small red potatoes
2 Fresh eggs, hard-boiled
¾ pound Green beans, snapped with strings removed
Handful of niçoise olives
Mixed Greens, enough for two large plates
Handful of Tarragon chopped
10-12 oz Tuna Steak
Place eggs in pot with enough water to rise an inch above the eggs. Bring to boil, remove from heat, and let sit covered for 17 minutes. Plunge eggs in cold ice water when timer rings; crack and peel. Boil potatoes in well salted water until they are tender but not overcooked (test with a fork). Steam green beans, then plunge in cold water. Grill fish so that it remains pink inside—the time will vary depending on the thickness of the steak, but three minutes a side is usually enough. Mix up vinaigrette (recipe below). Divide the mixed greens and tarragon onto two plates. Slice potatoes and eggs, and place around edges of the greens. Sprinkle olives. Place green beans in the middle. Dress salad. Place sliced tuna on top of the green beans. Serve with crusty French bread.
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot minced
Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste