20 May 2010

Olive Pesto

This month’s issue of La Cucina Italiana has an article on pesto, and recipes for lots of different kinds. When we think of pesto, we normally think of basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and parmesan. Those are the ingredients for the classic pesto, Pesto alla Genovese. But pesto can be made with any number of ingredients. The name ‘pesto’ comes from the tool traditionally used to make it: a pestle (and mortar too). In Italian, the word ‘pesto’ means ‘to pound’, which is what you do with a mortar and pestle.

I use dried tomato pesto in my two pesto pasta, and in Italy we sometimes see other pestos on the menu. Salsa verde is essentially a pesto made with parsley instead of basil.

When I saw a recipe for olive pesto, I was interested. At first, I thought it was simply tapenade, but the only ingredient it has in common with tapenade is olives. OK, olive oil too. But that’s it. Tapenade has capers, anchovies, garlic. This pesto has none of those. Instead, it has olives, pine nuts, mild onion, hot peppers, peccorino. See? It’s not tapenade at all.

I changed the recipe, of course. The one in the magazine had thyme and marjoram in it. I didn’t want the herbs to interfere with the olive flavor. Also, I didn’t have the herbs. If I’d had them, though, I wouldn’t have used them. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) I also added pine nuts, because I had them and I wanted their smooth buttery taste to complement the olive flavor. In truth, I think they’re lost in here. Next time, I’ll toast them and fold them in whole for crunch. I added a little parsley to it to lighten the flavor a little as well.

Needless to say, the flavor of this recipe depends totally on the olives. If they’re just blah, the final pesto will be just blah. It’s worth it to search out the best olives you can find for this--the olives are the star here! My olives were a little too salty for me. I generally don’t add a lot of salt when I cook, and we’re not used to a lot of salt. I soaked the olives overnight in cold water to take out some of the salt. I’m glad I did.

This pesto is wonderful as an appetiser on breadsticks, or spread on crostini or just plain melba toast. It’s also great tossed with some pasta. We ate it both ways. I would also spread it on pizza, or on good crusty bread. I might even try it as a filling for ravioli, maybe mixed with some ricotta.

Olive Pesto
Adapted from La Cucina Italiana

40 green olives (seeds removed)
40 black olives (seeds removed)
1 medium sized hot pepper
2 Tablespoons chopped green onion
3 Tablespoons pine nuts (optional)
1/2 cup grated peccorino
1/2 cup parsley
1/4 - 1/2 cup olive oil

  • Chop the hot pepper finely.
  • Toast the pine nuts. You can do it in the oven, but I do it in a small skillet over medium heat. It takes about 8-10 minutes. Watch it closely.
  • Put the olives, onion, pine nuts, peccorino and parsley in a food processor and pulse till it’s all finely chopped. Taste it. Add the hot pepper a little at a time, until it’s right for you. I can’t tell you how much to add, because it depends on your pepper, your olives, and your personal preference. I like to have enough to feel the afterburn.
  • Add enough olive oil to make a smooth-ish paste.

Makes about 2 cups

  • I started this in my mortar and pestle, but in the end it wasn’t big enough, so I finished it in my food processor. The texture is a little different than it would have been with the mortar and pestle, but I liked it anyhow.
  • To take the seeds out of the olives, I used a trick that I learned in cooking school. I used the bottom of a glass to smash them. Voila! The seeds came out easily. No more laborious cutting around the seed with a paring knife.
  • I used a mixture of green and black olives. You can use any mixture you like, of course. Or all green. Or all black. You’re the boss.
  • Like all pestos, this one will keep for a long time in the fridge if you make sure that there’s a thin layer of oliver oil over the top.
  • I think a little garlic wouldn’t be out of place in this. Next time I’ll add some.
  • You can, of course, use parmesan instead of peccorino.
  • Oh, yeah, I also didn't have green onion, so I used a little bit of leek.


Stella said...

Kate, I just posted a pesto too!
This is not a tapenade. Your'e right, and it sounds delicious. I'll be sure to try it with some white fish this week. My Mom brought me a lot of olives from the Dekalb Farmer's Market in Atlanta, and I need to use them...!

Amanda said...

Yum! I am going to have to try this, it looks fantastic!

ButterYum said...


I opt for using the food processor too... you really need the extra room. You can bash the olives with the side of your chef's knife too (like you smash garlic). The pit is exposed and easy to remove.


Pam said...

I cannot pass up a recipe using olives. Just can't.

Carol at Serendipity said...


I use a cherry/olive pitter tool I bought from Williams-Sonoma. I would opt for the food processor as well. Sounds yummy.


Linda said...

This looks absolutely delicious!

Juliana said...

Olive pesto, sounds and looks so tasty...have to try it!

Maggie B said...

Hi Kate,
Great sounding recipe, my mouth is watering already.
Since developing arthritis in my wrists & thumbs I use my food processor to "smash" things like pesto. Love the idea of speading your pesto on a pizza base, bon appetit.

Kim said...

I adore olives and could probably eat the whole batch, especially with some crusty bread - yum!

Love the tip about using a glass to pit the olives.

A Canadian Foodie said...

I make an olive pesto, too... I add basil - but will definitely try yours. I am crazy about dips and tepanades, and pestos and spreads.
Keep the trip recipe sharing coming!
(still waiting for the subscribe by e-mail plug in so I don't miss a post!

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I love olives so I'm sure I would love this! It sounds delicious!

Susan @ The Spice Garden said...

I love that you posted pesto right at the beginning of fresh herb season here in New England... can there be anything finer than fresh pesto with pasta or bread and good glass of wine?

2 Stews said...

Glad to have you back in the cooking saddle again! I've never heard of olive pesto and how easy and delicious sounding is this?!


Sophie said...

I am glad that you are abck withthose special &tasty recipes of yours!! yeah!!

I also love fresh olives pesto home made. I also love the added Hot chili pepper!

That must give a nice kick!

The Gypsy Chef said...

Yum, Yum, Yum! Sounds really good. Nice little trick about stoning the olives. I've always used the flat end of the knife but I think your way would be easier.
Welcome Home Kate!

grace said...

pretty pesto! every legitimate kitchen should have a mortar and pestle, don't you think? i like the consistency of your end result--it's unique and fabulous. clever, kate, as usual. :)

Kitchen Butterfly said...

Smiling as I just made a tapenade.....I love pesto, especially cause its something you can whip up as and when and it goes great with loads. Lots of love

~~louise~~ said...

Love your adaptation Kate. I think I would have left the herbs out also. Although, I'm growing a different kind of thyme this year. It's called yellow transparent thyme and I added it to an olive salad I made the other night and was pleasantly surprised. Like you said though, its all in the kind of olives you use.

I'll be saving this recipe. It sounds so good!!! Thanks for sharing...

tasteofbeirut said...

Love this pesto, but then I love olives! a lot!

Kevin said...

This would certainly be a flavourful pesto!

Anonymous said...

What a great tip for pitting olives. You wouldn't believe how long I spent pitting olives for a muffaletta sandwich last month. Thanks a bunch!