Autumn Arrives in Martina Franca
We’re on the cusp of autumn here in Martina Franca. The signs are everywhere: shorter days, a snap in the air and impromptu rainy spells that thwart my best-laid alfresco clothes-drying plans. Tomatoes are still available in the market, but they’re considerably more acidic than their late summer predecessors. Prudent cooks have already preserved summer’s tomato harvest to last throughout the winter, but pomodori da pendola, small, thicker-skinned tomatoes still clinging to the vine are hung in cellars here to extend the fresh tomato experience as long as possible. Improbably, they’ll stay fresh and full of flavor well into January. And the last wild oregano is gathered in bunches to preserve it all winter long, but the gorgeous nectarines are long gone.
Now there are new entries in the market stalls. Cima di rapa (more on this in another post), cauliflower, Savoy cabbage and an amazing array of eggplant varietals spill out from under market umbrellas. Chestnuts are everywhere, along with the first olives, which are sold here to city people who don’t have access to their own groves. Olive curing will soon begin in earnest, along with the olive harvest, which typically starts in the beginning of November.
Martinese cooks prepare these new olives in a way I’ve never seen before. These raw, uncured olives are slowly sautéed with garlic, dried, hot red pepper and flakes of sea salt in extra virgin olive just until their skins split. They’re served warm with aperitivi, little before dinner drinks designed to prepare the stomach for the meal to come. My greengrocer gave me a basket of these olives when they first appeared in her store, instructing me carefully on the preparation process.
So here’s what to do if you’ve got an olive tree and don’t know what to do with all those olives . . .
Olive Dolci Fritte—Sautéed New Olives
Amaze your friends by transforming seemingly inedible raw olives right off the tree into an addictive pre-dinner snack. Still slightly bitter, these olives absolutely burst with flavor. Serve them piping hot straight from the skillet as a perfect fall accompaniment to a glass of wine or an aperitivo. You can also use them as a kind of aglio, olio pepperoncino pasta sauce variant, but you’ll need to remove their pits after you sauté them or warn your guests . . .
Two or three cups of just-picked raw olives (preferably organic)
Two or three cloves of garlic
One or two small, hot, dried red peppers, minced
Kosher or sea salt in flakes
Extra virgin olive oil
Gently warm the olive oil or medium low heat in a heavy skillet (cast iron is perfect) with the garlic and dried pepper, taking care to avoid browning the garlic. Add the olives and continue to sauté, checking their progress from time to time.
When the olives start to split their skins and look a little wrinkly, sprinkle a judicious quantity of best quality salt over them and pour them into a pretty bowl to serve them immediately. If you have lots of extra olive oil, filter and save it in a closed jar for any number of uses later.