Olives From Spain Shines at Canela Bistro Bar in San Francisco
Green and black, ripe and semi-ripe, whole, pitted, chopped or sliced; olives are not just savory little hors d’oeuvres. Known to international gourmands for 5,000 years, olives contain so many vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients, including fiber and the healthiest plant-derived monounsaturated oil, that consuming a handful a day might lower bad cholesterol and provide anti-inflammatory benefits, according to many health and nutrition studies.
Enter Olives From Spain, the initiative led by Interaceituna, a professional organization created to implement different olive-related programs and activities, promote knowledge of the Spanish table olive, and conduct research and development in the production techniques. Recognized by the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment, the organization brings to the world a gift of various olives from Spain, the country named No. 1 for olive cultivation by the International Olive Council.
Strong and robust, olives from Spain come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, from golden to purple. They can be prepared Spanish- or Seville-style with either a brine or a variety of marinades with oregano, thyme, garlic, orange, lemon, onion, etc.
In the San Francisco Castro District, chef/owner Mat Schuster has partnered with Olives From Spain to create an olive-centered new menu in his popular Canela Bistro Bar, defined by mostly Spanish Mediterranean-inspired cuisine.
“Canela was created to bring joy to the act of eating, and Olives From Spain works perfectly with that vision,” said chef Schuster. “These all-new recipes have been delightful to create, and I’m confident in their ability to excite.”
And so my husband and I began our olive tapas dinner at Canela with a glass of sparkling cava and an assortment of pungent citrus-marinated olives that set the tone for the entire meal. Pitted and brined with lemon zest, peppers, garlic, and herbs, giant black and green and tiny golden olives were fun to pick and choose and decide on our favorites, although every single one of them had a rich smoky taste and was simply delicious.
Spanish olive tuna empanadas with olive crust presented a couple of little pies in blistery dough stuffed with a fiery mixture of pimiento and bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, flaky tuna, and of course olives, some of which were finely crushed and mixed into the dough.
Spanish olive and salt cod-stuffed piquillo peppers came as another olive-filled little treat with refreshing kale greens and delightfully nutty and garlicky romesco sauce, for which we were offered (and surely needed) additional slices of freshly-baked sourdough bread.
The Spanish Gordal olive and seafood pinchos plate was definitely the star of the show. Several skewers of delicate, seared, fresh salmon filet were interspersed with green pimiento-stuffed olives and garnished with fresh arugula. Each skewer contained chunks of perfectly medium-rare, jewel-colored fish contrasted in taste and texture by firm, oil-rich olives.
There couldn’t have been a better accompaniment to this scrumptious Spanish olive-dominated meal than 2009 Luis Canas, Rioja (Crianza) full-bodied Spanish red.
After a salty, briny enjoyment of so many versatile olive dishes, we couldn’t abstain from a traditional Spanish desert: wonderfully crispy churros and silky hot chocolate.
Of all the olive varieties available in Spain, many are used solely for the oil extraction. Only a select few are deemed suitable to be eaten as table olives. Making the grade depends on the fruit’s fat content, the size of the seed in comparison to the flesh, how easily the seed can be removed, and on the skin’s characteristics. If an olive has a small and smooth seed, an average fat content, delicately tasty but firm flesh, and fine skin, it is given the green light to a table. Spanish varieties best suited for table olives are the Manzanilla, Gordal, Hoijblanca, and Cacereña.
Combining the four basic flavors—sweet, salty, bitter, and sour—olives from Spain come in different types: green, harvested during the optimum ripening period when a Spanish olive has reached its full size but still retains its green color; semi-ripe, firm and dry with a unique pinkish, wine-red, or chestnut color and taste; ripe, with a darker color, naturally reddish-black, purplish-black, purple, greenish-black, or dark chestnut; and black, harvested before full ripening and treated with an alkaline solution which changes the color to black and removes the bitterness usually associated with green olives.
Some of the more popular choices are pimiento-stuffed Manzanilla olives; sliced black ripe olives; stuffed, pitted, or whole Gordal olives; and sliced, pitted, or whole Manzanilla olives.
Here’s one of the stellar olive recipes created by chef Schuster:
Spanish Gordal Olive and Seafood Pinchos
2 lb. fish filet, cut into 1” cubes such as halibut, swordfish, sea bass, salmon, or your favorite hearty fish
2 garlic cloves
1 shallot, rough chop
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. sweet Spanish paprika
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. ground cumin
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. Champaign vinegar
1 cup whole Spanish Gordal olives
(Below are the ingredients for the salsa verde)
½ cup minced parsley
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. lemon juice
Dash salt and pepper
3/4 cup olive oil
Heat grill on medium. Place shallot, garlic, salt, and spices in a food processor and pulse. Add in olive oil, vinegar, and lemon juice. Place in a dish to marinate fish. Skewer the fish, putting three to four cubes on a small stick with olives in between, and marinate them in the shallow dish, turning so they are well coated. Leave at least a couple of hours. Spread the pinchitos out well on a barbecue or on foil under a grill. Cook them under high heat for about two minutes on each side. You can finish them in a 350-degree oven if the cubes are very large. Mix together salsa verde ingredients and serve.