Monday, August 24, 2009

Olive all'Ascolana Part II

If you missed the introduction and background about this delicacy, be sure to ready Part I.

Olive all'Ascolana (pronounced oh-LEE-vay) - Ascoli-style Stuffed Olives

I have eaten an uncountable quantity of these critters while living in Ascoli Piceno, and watched them being prepared, had verbal recipes recited to me, along with a couple of sketchy hand-written instructions. I decided to take the two most reliable recipes, one provided to me by my friend Linda Ancona, and the other from my former landlady, Dorina, as the best ones, and adapted them.

A few notes before you begin.
*This is by far the most "complicated" recipe I've ever posted on La Cucina. While it's pretty straight-forward, it is time-consuming to make them so allow plenty of time. Make a decent quantity (as discussed in Part I) and freeze them. It is nice to have them on hand ready to fry for a future aperitivo party or antipasto.

*In Ascoli, the meat mixture is traditionally made with chunks of meat, then ground in a meat grinder after cooking. It does actually make a difference in taste and texture to prepare it this way, rather than starting with pre-ground meats (but I admit that I use the pre-ground because I don't have a meat grinder; I whirled the meat in a food processor before stuffing the olives.)  If you do have a meat-grinder, though, make it the traditional way, as it truly tastes better.

*The Ascolani have a set system for making their olive all'ascolana:  1) Hand-pit the olives; 2) Prepare the meat mixture and make it into marble-sized meatballs; 3) Stuff the olives; 4) Bread them and let them sit (or freeze them) before 5) Frying them. This routine works because they hand-cut the olive off the pit in a spiral fashion and reconstruct the olive around the meatball. I slices my pitted olives open and stuffed the ball inside, but Janie of Panini Girl recommends piping the meat into the olive with a pastry bag (a sensible idea!).

*Finally, the olives. It can be difficult to find large pitted olives that are not already stuffed with something. The Cerignola is a mild, large olive, but I have only found them whole. (A cherry pitter would work if you want to pit them yourself.) The tenera ascolana is cured in a very mild brine of sea salt and water, so you don't get a "pucker factor" from them.  I found that most jarred olives tend to be much more strongly brined, so they will need to be soaked for a couple of hours to slake off some of the brine flavor before you stuff them.

                          About 100 olives - stuffed and breaded and ready to freeze

Authentic Olive all'Ascolana

1 onion, minced
1/3 pound ground chicken (or chicken breast)
1/3 pound ground pork (or chunks of pork)
4 to 5 slices prosciutto crudo, minced
1 carrot, cut into 3-4 large pieces
1 celery stalk, cut into 3-4 large pieces
salt and pepper
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup grated parmigiano or pecorino cheese
1 egg
zest from 1/2 lemon
dash or two of nutmeg

Heat about 1 TBSP of olive oil in a large skillet, and saute the onion until soft. Add the meats and saute until cooked, using a fork to mash it and keep the meat as fine-textured as possible. (If you're using chunks, just brown them and saute until cooked through.) Add the carrot and celery, season with salt and pepper, and then add the wine. Cook until the wine has evaporated. Remove from heat, take out the celery and carrot pieces, and cool.

If you are using chunks of meat, grind them in the meat grinder. If you used ground meat, put it in a food processor and pulse to get a finer texture.

To the ground meat, add the parmigiano or pecorino, the lemon zest, nutmeg and egg. (Dorina cautions to use a light hand with the lemon zest and nutmeg, as too much will overpower evertyhing.) Mix well, like you would a meatloaf mixture.

Fill the olives with the meat.  To do this you can roll the meat into marble-sized balls, as is traditional, or use a pastry bag to pipe it into the olives.

To Prepare the Olives:

3 eggs
Fine Breadcrumbs

In a shallow bowl, beat the eggs. Place flour in one bowl, the breadcrumbs in another. Dip the olives in the flour, then the eggs, then the breadcrumbs to coat evenly. Put them on a plate. Refrigerate at least 1/2 hour before frying. Note:  You can prepare the olives up to this point and freeze them for future use.

To Fry:

Heat olive oil in a saucepan. Fry olives a few at a time, turning to fry them evenly, until golden. Drain on paper towels.

Italians use olio da friggere, a liquid frying oil that is made of a blend of seed oils (peanut, sunflower, grapeseed and olive oil, I think). They do not use hydrogenated fat for frying! I use olive oil (sometimes pouring in a bit of grapeseed oil which has a higher smoke point).

Makes about 200 olives.

Enjoy with a Piceno wine like Pecorino, Falerio, or Rosso Piceno.


janie said...

I wish I was there to partake in your olive feast! I have a fond memory of walking around Piazza Arringo with a cone of fried olives and before O knew it, they were gone!

Chef Chuck said...

Wow, I could see myself being addicted to them too! The meat blend sounds delish. Thanks for sharing this recipe with me :)

Peter @ italyMONDO! said...

I'm with Chef Chuck... I've never seen these before - but can see myself becoming addicted!

Lisa Cherubini Diletti said...

Come on over to our home in Herndon the next time my husband Fabio from Ascoli makes olive all' Ascolana! Our friends are always asking - when is he making those fabulous olives again! Our kids are so lucky to have grown upon them. They certainly are a labor of love but Fabio started cheating by using large olives with pimento and cutting them open one side and removing the pimento! Only problem is you end up with too much olive part vs when you cut the olive in cork screw mode away from the pit.

Valerie said...

Ciao Lisa! We'd love to! I ended up doing exactly as Fabio, cutting them open and taking out the pimentoes, and shoving in the little balls of meat. Worked out alright, but not as good as those tubs I used to buy from Tempera!

gdd9000 said...

Oh my goodness, this is the most tedious recipe of all time. Pitting a few hundred olives, with about a 10% fail rate. Lovely. Then stuffing them? Even more fun. But best of all, flour, egg, roll in crumbs? Uh huh. I must be doing something wrong because the crumbs wont hold. Well, I take that bake, they hold great to my fingers, just not to the olives. These better taste good, because they are the royal pain in the arse of all time.

Valerie said...

gdd9000 - I did say at the outset that it was rather complicated! While hand-pitting is traditional, I buy pitted olives (as pointed out) to avoid that whole tedious step. Bravo for taking that on! Stuffing them is the easiest part, I think. When breading things, it's best to keep one hand for the dry part (flour and breadcrumbs) and one hand for the wet egg mixture, to avoid the caked-up fingers. With the egg wash I have never had a problem with the crumbs adhering. Maybe too much flour before the egg? Boh! In boca al lupo! Hope they turned out for you!

Paresh Varsani said...
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