Olives have been a part of the human diet for thousands of years, long before the canning industry, grocery stores, and martinis came into play. But a few decades ago, your average American knew only a few varieties—some were green, some were black, some were pitted, and the best ones were pimento-stuffed...and that was that. Today, we dig a little deeper into the diverse and versatile world of olives.
Picholine - These torpedo-shaped French green olives are wonderfully crisp and crunchy, with a tart, nutty, anise-y flavor. They're pretty and elegant enough to serve as hors d'oeuvres, and give a welcome punch to risotto or a hearty stew.
Gaeta | These small, purplish-brown, wrinkled olives from Puglia have soft, tender flesh and a tart, citrusy taste. Gaetas can be either dry-cured (shrivelly, chewy) or brine-cured (plump, juicy). I like them served over spaghetti with capers and pine nuts, or simple served out of bowl for snacking.
Castelvetrano olives are Italy's most ubiquitous snack olive. Bright green, they're often referred to as dolce (sweet), and come from Castelvetrano, Sicily, from the olive variety nocerella del belice. They have a Kermit-green hue, meaty, buttery flesh, and a mild flavor. Consider serving them with sheep's milk cheese and a crisp white wine.