Olive garden: A Mediterranean staple has become an American darling

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Raising the bar: The olive selection at Whole Foods packs enough variety to feed (or fuel!) your obsession. Photo: John Robinson Raising the bar: The olive selection at Whole Foods packs enough variety to feed (or fuel!) your obsession. Photo: John Robinson

I find food utterly irresistible. Growing up in a family of cooks, I guess it couldn’t have turned out any differently. Italians are all about food and I am certainly no exception. Family recipes fill my recipe box—most are in Italian and some I’ve made on my own in my new country. And while I make a mean pesto and love baking potato focaccia, I’m not an Italian-only snob (though I do draw the line at meatloaf).

As much as I love cooking, eating is where I truly excel. My favorite food is chocolate, but I’ll be covering other ingredients—where to find them and how to use them—on these pages too. First up? Olives. As I said, I’m Italian.

As a delectable appetizer for guests or a garnish for your dirty martini to get the party started, olives are a somewhat polarizing but healthy fruit. Here are my favorite places to find them around town.

Before the pre-meal, the mixed olives portion at MAS Tapas, served in a small oval dish, will lock any guest in her seat.

A few steps away, tavola’s antipasti misti, a visual spectacle of marinated olives, takes center stage next to slices of prosciutto di Parma, Olli salame, grilled artichokes, and artisanal cheese.—Chiara Canzi

At Al Hamraa, the Moroccan tapas-style dining spot on Second Street SE, olives are at the forefront of the menu—and the culture. Start with a serving of home-marinated olives, called zaitoun, and continue with Ton welehrour, a sumptuous tuna sandwich with olives and Moroccan harissa, a hot chili sauce.

The beauty of olives (quite literally) is that they come in many shapes, colors, and textures. The Local Panini sandwich at Feast! combines creamy Caramont goat cheese with olive and artichoke tapenade, a saucy spread that couples the brine and salt of olives with the slight sweetness of artichokes.

Indulge in a contemporary French dish with Fleurie’s wild caught salmon served with a puree of fennel, sweet garlic butter, and black olive tapenade.

Pit stop
There are hundreds of different varieties of olives on the market—various textures and curing methods that result in astoundingly diverse flavors. For a taste of the many colorful faces of the fruit, turn your attention to the olive bar at Whole Foods Market. These are a few of my favorites.

Moroccan oil-cured black olives: Wrinkly gems of flavor that add a sweet tanginess to any sauce.

Kalamata olives: Possibly the best-known and most popular variety, these are often used as a table olive, but they’re versatile enough to successfully pull off a kalamata-based hummus (Whole Foods’ Cava Mezze kalamata hummus) or a scrumptious Artisan Bread Olive demi-baguette (found at Trader Joe’s).

Cerignola green olives: These large Italian olives are some of the sweetest, but can still pack a punch with their meaty texture. Not a green olive fan? Cerignola black olives are softer than their green counterpart.

Nicoise-Coquillo olives: Originally grown in Portugal, Spain and Italy, these olives are one of the smallest and richest in flavor. They are also a not-so-distant cousin to the Nicoise olive, only grown in the French Rivera.

Castelvetrano olives: Big and bold, Castelvetrano olives take their name from the region they call home in Western Sicily. They are perfect pairs to any cheese plate, but their perfect companion is a good and healthy chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano.

Mt. Athos olives stuffed with orange, Tarragon, and fennel herbs: These Halkidiki (Hal-KEE-dah-kee) olives from Greece are big in flavor but with a sophisticated finish.

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