One of the perks of being a Personal Chef is that I get to experiment with many ingredients and dishes, doing things that maybe I would have skipped if I had to cook just for myself or my family, out of laziness or health concerns.
One of my greatest discoveries were the Olive all’Ascolana, which are a traditional street food -like dish from the city of Ascoli Piceno, in the Marche region. I never tried this specialty growing up, somehow, I missed it: probably in Italy there are many more local specialties that I have never heard of, so big is the variety of food and the imagination of my compatriots.
Olive all’Ascolana are basically pitted olives stuffed with a mix of different meats, usually pork, veal, and chicken, and the omnipresent parmigiano cheese. Breaded and then fried, they are crispy on the outside and soft and tasty on the inside. You start eating them and you never stop – the right size for a one-two bites appetizer.
This recipe seemed straightforward to replicate also here in the US – but don’t get too thrilled because we will never be able to make the same thing. The variety of olives used in Ascoli is exactly the “ascolana”, which is a plump, large, and sweet olive. Needless to say the production area is so limited that it doesn’t even cover the growing demand in Italy, let alone the export abroad: the ascolana olives are thus impossible to find here, as far as I know.
But to make something that reminds the unforgettable taste of the original olives, I experienced substituting ingredients and adapting the recipe. After a couple of tests, I am now convinced that the Castelvetrano olives work better because of their plumpness and texture; they have a beautiful deep green color; they are definitely more acidic and saltier, so they need a good rinse before using for this recipe.
The stuffing of the olives has also evolved with time: originally a mix of 3 meats, is now an exercise in imagination, also in Italy: fish and vegetarian fillings have become common. I prefer to make the meat filling with chicken breast, in order to make them palatable to a broader range of guests. I also tried a vegetarian filling version but was not happy with the results – many more sessions of testing await me – but I don’t complain, it could be worse!
The olives are fried, and as such not the kind of food I would have every day. But the length of the process guarantees the fact that you will probably NOT make them that often!
And in any case frying is an art and when done right, at the right temperature and with the right oil the food can be lighter than what you expect.
This is a great festive appetizer for the end of the year holidays.
PREMIUM CONTENT for MEMBERS ONLY
For 4 Servings
1 cup Carnaroli rice
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 tablespoons of EV Olive Oil
½ glass of white table wine
1 pint chicken stock preprepared (or vegetable stock)
1 cup rinsed blueberries
1 cup roasted chestnuts or more, chopped in big pieces
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons gorgonzola cheese (optional)