We were back in Liguria again this year just in time for the beginning of the olive pressing season. Last year we arrived to find a depressing situation- olive trees suffering from leprosy with sparsely hung olives, mostly malformed or infected by fruit flies. 2014 was the first year in generations that Italian families that traditionally have pressed their own olive oil, had to purchase it instead. The good news is that this year we arrived to find trees hanging heavy with perfect olives!
The atmosphere was lighter this visit to the frantoio where the olives were being pressed as families lined up with several tanks to fill of olive oil, rather than the measly 1 or 2 that we witnessed last year. Olive picking season is a great time for families to get together and chat while going about their picking. Many of the olives were not quite ready for picking as of yet but the nets were being cast on the ground to collect the olives and the production has definitely begun. I tried some of the oil which was pressed last Friday, which was excellent. Curious on what are the criteria for good olive oil? Check out my guide here.
Here is a short video on the olives being fed into the press:
There are many traditional Ligurian recipes for rabbit similar to the one below although I use the more readily available chicken instead of rabbit. The dish does not suffer for the substitution however. Typical seasonings for this dish in Liguria include thyme, rosemary, garlic, onion, olives, red or white wine, sage, tomato, bay leaf, rosemary and of course, olive oil. White wine can be used to substitute the lemon. This dish is lovely served with roast potatoes, polenta or fries.
Pollo alla Ligure (chicken with olives and lemon)
600 grams chicken, rinsed and cut into 3 cm cubes
75 ml extra-virgin olive oil
1 lemon, rinsed and zest cut off half the lemon in thick strips (try not to include the white pith), juice reserved
2 cloves garlic, smashed and the skin removed
1 branch of rosemary, rinsed and dried
60 grams small black olives in brine (preferably taggiasca), drained and pitted
black pepper, freshly ground
Place 60 ml of the olive oil and the garlic into a frying pan and heat over medium heat. When the garlic is golden, add the chicken, lemon zest, salt, pepper and rosemary. When the chicken touching the bottom of the pan has browned, stir to brown the other parts of the chicken. When the chicken is browned all over (about 5 minutes), reduce the heat to low.
Remove the garlic cloves, rosemary and lemon zest and discard. Pour the lemon juice over the top and add the olives. Cover and continue cooking until the chicken is cooked through (5 – 10 minutes). Drizzle the remaining 15 ml of olive oil over top and check the seasonings before serving.
Interested in other recipes which are perfect for the new olive oil? See Pinzimonio (crudite with olive oil), Minestrone (vegetable soup), Spaghetti aglio olio (spaghetti with garlic chilli oil), Pesce al cartoccio (fish baked in parchment), Orecchiette con cima di rapa (pasta cups with broccoli), Verdure grigliate (grilled mixed vegetables), Crostoni di cavolo nero (black Tuscan cabbage on toast) and of course, Schiacciata con l’uva (sweet grape focaccia).
If you have friends and family who love olives or olive oil, please share this recipe.