Full of “good fats” and flavor like no other, olives are a global fave—just don’t eat them off the stem.

Olives, no matter where they’re grown, are among the world’s most widely celebrated foods, and for good reason.

Native to the Mediterranean Basin and western Asia, olives are actually the fruit of the Olea europea tree, an amazing tree that can live for hundreds, even thousands of years. The olive tree, in fact, is among the oldest known cultivated trees in the world, being first grown on Crete around 3,000 B.C. (It is speculated that olives were perhaps the source of the Minoan kingdom’s great wealth.)

Spanish colonists introduced olives to the New World in the mid-16th century, planting the first seedlings in Lima, Peru. Soon olive tree cultivation spread to the valleys of South America’s Pacific coast and eventually north to California by the 18th century. The olive also has made its way to Japan, New Zealand and Australia in the last few hundred years.

Today, olives are perhaps best revered for their immense health benefits. They are an excellent source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, which can help with an array of health conditions that extend to every part of the human body, including the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, nervous system, musculoskeletal system, immune systems, inflammatory system and digestive system. Olives also are a good source of iron, copper and dietary fiber.

And while those watching their waist-line may be reluctant to add more of this “high-fat food” to their diet—approximately 80-85 percent of an olive’s calorie content comes from fat—know that olives are rich in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and decreased blood pressure. Olives also contain the essential fatty acid linoleic acid and a very small amount of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid.

Though too bitter to be eaten right off the stem, once cured, olives can be enjoyed solo as a deliciously nutritious snack or in any array of dishes, from salads and pasta dishes to sauces, spreads and, of course, garnishes on your evening martini.

Marinating methods vary depending on the variety of olive and region it is cultivated. Traditional methods include water-curing, brine-curing, oil-curing and dry-curing, and each treatment can affect the color, taste and texture of the olive. For example, in California (where the majority of olives are grown in the United States), olives are picked before they fully ripen and are cured in a lye-brine before being exposed to air, which triggers an oxidation process that transforms the olives’ outer color from green to black.

The color of an olive is usually determined by when it was picked during the harvest season, which runs from October to January. Some olives, such as the Spanish Manzanilla or the French Picholine, are harvested early in the season while they are still green; others, like the popular Kalamata olives of Greece, must be allowed to fully mature so that they can achieve their beautiful, deep purple-black hue.

Size has nothing to do with an olive’s age. While tiny, the Niçoise olive that is grown in Nice, France, is a fully tree-ripened olive beloved for its meaty texture and use in Salade Niçoise. On the other end of the spectrum, the impressive size of the Cerignola, a green olive harvested in the Puglia region of Italy, makes it an impressive accompaniment to antipasti or as an appetizer stuffed with garlic, cheese, peppers or anchovies.

A popular way to enjoy olives and test out different olive combinations is in a tapenade. This Provençal dish gets its name from the French word for capers, tapenas, as the edible flower bud is one of the main ingredients for this hors d’oeuvre; however, olive-based tapenades with anchovies and/or vinegar are ubiquitous in Italian cuisine and are well-documented in ancient Roman cookbooks dating back thousands of years. In fact, the earliest known tapenade recipe, Olivarum conditurae, appeared in Columella’s De re Rustica, written in the first century A.D.

The base ingredients for a tapenade are olives, most commonly black olives, and capers, which are finely chopped, crushed or blended with olive oil to make a paste. Other ingredients, such as garlic, herbs, anchovies, lemon juice and brandy, are added, depending upon region.

Terry Walters, one of the original leaders of the “clean-eating movement” and author of the acclaimed books Clean Food and Clean Start, often serves the following recipe for Olive Tapenade atop homemade garlic crostini as an appetizer for company or as an accompaniment to a pasta dinner. Walters also suggests enjoying the tapenade the next day, spread on toasted sourdough bread in a roasted vegetable or Portobello mushroom sandwich.

OLIVE TAPENADE

(Yields 1 1/4 cups)

Ingredients:
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 1/2 cups Kalamata olives, pitted
1 cup oil-cured black Greek olives, pitted
2 generous tablespoons capers
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup fresh parsley
1 tablespoon lemon juice, plus more if desired
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil, as needed

Preparation:
With food processor running, drop in garlic and mince. Turn processor off; add olives, capers, thyme, parsley, lemon juice and pepper to taste. Process until smooth, scraping down sides as needed.Add olive oil a little at a time to achieve the desired consistency. Adjust flavor with more lemon juice and transfer to bowl. Store in airtight container in refrigerator or freezer.

Photo courtesy Cookspace Hawaii

Photo courtesy Cookspace Hawaii

KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL

CookSpace turns up the heat!

A private meal in public? Check. How-tos from hip chefs and culinary masters? Check. Prepping fresh ingredients without having to clean up? Sure, why not. CookSpace

Hawaii—introduced early last year—is Honolulu’s answer to the social culinary experience.

Seasoned foodie and founder Melanie Kosaka is no stranger to gastronomic fêtes, but more than just the delicious fare, she loved the atmosphere experienced at those gatherings. CookSpace was born from a desire to, hopefully, replicate the vibe at those lively food affairs.

Offering cooking classes, tastings and more, the 1000-square-foot gem (located in Ward Warehouse) is the perfect venue for local and would-be gourmets to mingle with like-minded denizens.

Photo courtesy Cookspace Hawaii

Photo courtesy Cookspace Hawaii

Complete with demo kitchen—outfitted with Sub-Zero and Wolf appliances, no less—prepping stations and a seating capacity of 32, CookSpace has been bustling with a bevy of activity and has had its share of chef cameos including Hector Wong and even Momofuku Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi.

CookSpace has also been the setting for private bashes, including a custom-tailored bachelorette party (the cozy group of six learned how to make empanadas, tamales and a tamarind-infused drink) and a team-building event involving a pizza-making contest. Apparently good food in the right atmosphere is a recipe for camaraderie.

More classes loom on the horizon. From locally grown chocolate tastings to a high-tea open house, to more wellness-slanted workshops, CookSpace has plenty in store.

For more information, visit www.cookspacehawaii.com

—By Margie Jacinto