“Over the light of the Italian sea
Is the despair of olive trees”
– From “Ode to Olive Oil” by Pablo Neruda
Prized by the ancients, the olive tree and its fruit appear in mythology, food traditions, and trade. From the bed of Odysseus, which was shaped from a living olive tree, to the burning of Athenian groves by the Spartans, the olive is entwined in Mediterranean culture and history.
Growing up, olives were always on the table in one form or another. When they weren’t being eaten, they were often talked about. Someone always knew someone who had olive trees or who was thinking of trying their hand at growing one. The same was true of figs. Olives and figs. Figs and olives. Far from the Mediterranean.
Make olives a part of your table with this warm goat cheese and roasted olive salad. Serve it as an appetizer or a mid-afternoon snack. When the weather is hot and the wine is flowing, it makes a perfect light lunch.
2 ½ cups pitted mixed green and black olives
Juice and zest from one large orange
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
½ teaspoon fennel seed, crushed
6 ounces goat cheese
Select favorite green and black olives such as Cerignola, kalamata, Castelvetrano, Gaeta, and Niçoise for this recipe. A mix of buttery, sweet, meaty, and herbal types work well. Drain them and set aside.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix the olives, orange juice and zest, olive oil, parsley, thyme, and fennel in a small bowl. Transfer them to a baking or pie dish. Bake for 15 minutes.
While the olives are roasting, cut the goat cheese into ½-inch thick rounds. Remove the olives from the oven, top with the goat cheese rounds, and return to the oven for 5 minutes.
Serve warm with a drizzle of olive oil and freshly cracked black pepper. Serve on its own or with baguette slices as the cheese will be soft and spreadable.