It is often said that Mediterranean flavor is based on three ingredients--tomatoes, olive oil and garlic. That, of course, is oversimplifying it. The subtleties which set the area apart and then distinguish each nation's cookery within it, come in the use of many other ingredients, from seasonings to such flavorsome ingredients as whole olives.
Whether they be green or black, marinated or cured in brine, olives are a common feature in the cuisines of Greece, Italy and sunny Provence. Moreover, the use of olives in recipes has followed the spread of Latin cultures to many other countries of the world.
One of Mexico's popular enchiladas--the chicken picadillo version--is filled with a combination of chopped, pitted green olives, sweet peppers, tomatoes, raisins, almonds, capers and shredded, cooked chicken. This mixture is spiced with garlic, thyme, cinnamon and ginger. Olives have the function of providing both flavor and textural distinctions. (See ingredients for recipe in sidebar.)
In Greece, the olive factor is apt to be the type this country has made famous--the Calamatas. This meaty, pointed variety, found in the Calamata area, is marinated in olive oil, vinegar and oregano, until it develops a characteristically savory flavor.
This becomes an essential of such Greek specialties as roasted eggplant salad (melitzanosalata). In this, eggplants are first roasted until evenly charred, then baked until the meat is cooked, and then peeled. In a food processor, the meat is blended until smooth, with pitted Calamata olives, onions, lemon juice, black pepper, garlic, parsley, oregano, mint, dill weed and yogurt. Some recipes also call for cinnamon and allspice. The smooth mix is served as a salad dip with pita bread.
Italian cooks like to use both black and green olives in a dish like cacciatore, giving it a pleasing combination of flavors, colors and textures. The olives are supported by garlic, onions and sweet peppers in a tomato-rich sauce, seasoned with the spices that are essential to Italians--oregano, basil, parsley, marjoram, rosemary and sage. Cacciatores, of course, can be of chicken, veal or seafood.
In tapenade--a spread used variously as an appetizer, a garnish for soups or a flavorful addition to pastas--Provence puts the focus on black olives. Joining them are capers, anchovies, garlic and the herbs this region grows and loves (typical ones are tarragon, thyme, basil, parsley, savory and marjoram). All of these ingredients are blended with olive oil and lemon juice (both added slowly, while blending), until the mixture is paste-like. Nothing is cooked; the tapenade is served at room temperature.pf
Flavor Secrets pilot recipes have originally been adapted exclusively for Prepared Foods by the test kitchen of the American Spice Trade Assoc. Visit www.PreparedFoods.com and type "Flavor Secrets" into the keyword search field for more recipes. (FR0995)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
.25 cup diced sweet red bell pepper
1.5 cups chopped plum tomatoes
.33 cup sliced pitted green olives
.25 cup golden raisins
2 tbsp instant minced onion
2 tbsp sliced natural almonds
1 tbsp drained capers
1.5 tsp thyme leaves, crushed< br>.5 tsp garlic powder
.5 tsp ground ginger
.5 tsp salt
2 cups marinara sauce, divided
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
8 large flour tortillas (about 8in in diameter)
Preheat oven to 350∞F. In a large non-stick skillet, heat oil until hot. Add red bell pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, olives, raisins, onion, almonds, capers, cinnamon, thyme, garlic powder, ginger and salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until a sauce forms, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in chicken*, set aside. Spread 1 cup marinara sauce in a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan. On each flour tortilla, spread a heaping .25 cup chicken filling down center and .25 of the cheese. Roll up; place seam-side down over marinara sauce. Pour remaining 1 1/2 cups sauce over enchiladas. Bake until heated through, about 20 minutes. Garnish with lime slices and sliced green olives, if desired.
Yield: 4 portions; *roughly 3-4 cups shredded chicken