Nancy Silverton's Small, Smart Steps Turn a Basic Appetizer Into Jewels

December  2, 2016

The first thing Los Angeles restaurant legend Nancy Silverton does when she gets to her home in Umbria, Italy, is make a batch of pesto and a batch of these olives.

Most “recipes” for marinated olives—formulas, really—follow a similar cadence: Let aromatics open up in oil over heat. Probably add a peel of citrus. Cascade that oil over the olives. Let sit. Everyone coos. Done deal.

But of course Nancy, whose new book is Mozza at Home, brings attention and grace to a dish you might not think needs it (after all, she did the same to whipped cream and bran muffins).

Her go-to olive recipe is still formulaic in its entry points for adaptation, but its sidesteps from the usual are wholly worthwhile, without adding any fuss to assembly.

First, she includes whole cloves of garlic as edible jewels nestled with the olives. Whereas many recipes simmer garlic slivers over low heat just so they're no longer raw-tasting, in this recipe, whole cloves turn brown and glisteny from slighter warmer heat while also casting flavor into the oil. Your olives are going to marinate in garlic oil. (Should you rather let your olives reside among shallot or onion oil, now you know what to do.)

Add the usual aromatics and then the olives. But not just one type: four different ones—big, small, shades of purple and green. It all has to do with bringing intrigue and diversity to the bowl. Nancy has her favorites (Lucques, Castelvetrano, Niçoise, and Picholine), but you go with yours—just not the black ones you stick on your fingers, she explained when she showed us how to make these.

At this point, the marinated olives can keep in the fridge for nibbling, munching, snacking, or surprise guests for up to two weeks. But right before you do, do this last genius thing that Nancy learned from a Spanish restaurant: Sidestep the need to add cheese to your appetizer spread by putting the cheese right in that olive bowl. Tiny cubes of fresh pecorino sip up garlic oil, waiting for you to pinch them up—before and after a garlic clove and any number of olive specimens.

This recipe is uncomplicated but layered, just like the others in Mozza at Home (Exhibit B: olive oil cake with rosemary and pine nuts). Nancy's goal seems to be to entertain without showing off, to bring people closer together. And you can’t not smush close when there's a little bowl of something delightful to tuck into.

To watch Nancy make her marinated olives with fresh pecorino, head here.

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Editor/writer/stylist. Author of I Dream of Dinner (so You Don't Have To). Last name rhymes with bagel.