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If somebody had patented the recipe for Olive all’Ascolana, they would have amassed quite a fortune: sold around the world on sheets of waxed paper, the origins of this popular street food are virtually unknown. The original recipe of there stuffed and fried olives comes from the town of Ascoli Piceno, in the Marche region of central Italy, where some patient cook created the perfect dish for a leisurely Sunday lunch: an oval coating of bread crumbs surrounding an olive stuffed with meat aromatized with lemon and cloves and then fried.
True lovers of the dish know that when making these olives for guests, one should always calculate at least ten olives per person. Which means, yes, almost one hundred olives for eight people. But let’s start from the beginning, as the purists would. The olives used for Olive all’Ascolana should be the “Ascolana Tenera” variety, which are kept in pickled water with a touch of fennel seeds before being stuffed with beef, pork or white meat and then fried in extra-virgin olive oil. In 2005, the olives all’Ascolana from Piceno area were included in Europe’s Protected Designation of Origin scheme. Zè Migliori is the owner of a famed delicatessen in the center of Ascoli Piceno. “The exact recipe for our stuffing is a family secret – and each family has its own – but usually it includes three kinds of meat: chicken, veal and pork cooked with seasoning and sautéed in butter, Parmigiano and nutmeg. The meat should be ground in a meat grinder only after cooking.”
Clelia D'onofrio is an expert on Italian cuisine and has authored a series of recipe books. From the Marche region of Italy, she sustains that Olive all’Ascolana always feature on her Christmas menus, despite being time consuming to prepare. “The hardest part is removing the pits one at a time, which should be done with a sharp knife. You need to make a perfect spiral and take care not to cut up the flesh. Stuffed olives should never be too big, as this means that the cook has sloppy skills. A properly stuffed olive is a miracle of proportions.”
On the coastal parts of the Marche region, there are variants stuffed with local fish – but the procedure and technique is the same as the traditional recipe.
(for 5-6 people, makes circa 60 olives)
Cooking time: 50 minutes
Preparation time: 60 minutes
500 g green Ascolane olives, 400 g lean beef, 150 g lean pork, 50 g chicken (or turkey), 2 eggs onions, carrots, celery, dry white wine, salt, cloves, lemon zest, pepper.
To fry: 2 eggs bread crumbs white flour nutmeg extra-virgin olive oil
Using a sharp kitchen knife, cut a spiral around the opening of the olive and remove the pits. The spiral shaped piece of olive pulp should be left in a bowl of lightly salted cold water for a few hours. Brown the meat with the minced vegetables, adding a bit of white wine and salt. Let the meat cook for 20 minutes, and then pass it through a meat grinder adding nutmeg. When seasoned, add the eggs and cheese, making sure the filling is soft and moist. Pinch a bit of filling and shape it into a small ball. Use the piece of spiral shaped olive pulp and wrap it around the small bit of filling. Using light pressure, press the filling into the olive and then pass it through the flour, the beaten egg, and lastly through the bread crumbs.
The olives should be oval in shape and just a bit larger than their original size. Once prepared, they can be frozen or kept for a few days in the refrigerator – or you can fry them immediately. Bring a generous amount of olive oil to a boiling point and fry a few olives at a time so as not to lower the temperature of the oil. Shake them from time to time so they fry evenly. When they become golden in color, place them on paper toils to degrease and serve them hot.