I remember being terribly hungry. Finally. Truly stomach growling hungry, which was a relief as I was fresh off my deathbed.
The culprit was probably a melted ice cube in my tepid cola, harboring some nasty tourist-trampling bug. I had lain in bed for two days, and all I remember was the ceiling and the blessedly cool marble floor in the bathroom. My mother had the hotel maid check on me from time to time as our stop in Cyprus was short and she was not one to miss the sites. I was 12 years old and the youngest person in our tour group. We had departed Cairo under the watchful eye of soldiers and their machine guns, flown to Cyprus where I drank the fated cola, but we were on a flight to Greece when I realized that I was truly hungry.
The food arrived on white plates, the trays were draped in white linen, white cups held rich, dark coffee, and compact silverware was wrapped in a white cloth napkin. Most people picked at their food, but I ate everything. Lamb wrapped in filo, bulgher wheat salad with fresh herbs and feta cheese.
Then I got to the little waxed paper cup of olives. I knew they were somehow different from the black circles I got on pizza, but I figured they would be okay as they rated a separate container from the rest of my plate. Then I bit into one and discovered the hard core. But then the taste hit me,really hit me!
The front of my tongue noticed something a bit different from the back of my tongue. Bitter, salty, my tongue felt dry down the middle…It was a clarion moment for me. I asked for my mom’s cup and woman’s beside me… Before I was finished, I had stacked up five little crisp white paper cups with naked gray-green pits rattling around. I had found taste bud nirvana!
The smile I got from the Greek stewardess was priceless. She leaned over to take my spotless, nearly blinding, good to the last crumb, clean white plate and then saw the bounty of olive pits and made eye contact. Oh, how we grinned at one another. She was happy, I was happy, the world was a surprising and pleasing place. I had found my universal language, and it was food!
It has been more than a few decades since I discovered that my first true flavor passion was for Calamata olives. I have made it a priority to research and taste many types of olives, and I love them all.
To this day, when I am rummaging about wondering what to eat, I settle for a few olives. I will go out of my way to find a store that stocks a nice bounty of olives, pottery crocks filled to the brim with black and green and speckled or wrinkled fruits. I love the process of choosing each type, watching as they are ladled into their containers and weighed. I can never wait until I get home to taste one, savoring the pit and tucking it into my cheek for a little while. When I travel, I always search for a nice deli or specialty store and stock up for the impromptu picnics that go with life on the road. I have even tasted local olives in New Zealand and had the great opportunity to taste various olive oils there.
There are a lot of foods that make my tastebuds sing, but nothing will ever have the power of that first olive, delivered in a small waxed paper cup on that airplane high over the Mediterranean Sea. I will never forget my surprise and pure pleasure from the first taste of a real olive. More profound is the memory of the astonished smile from that lovely stewardess when we found common ground in the language of local food.
- Oven 350 degrees
- Dutch Oven or oven proof deep skillet
- Olive Oil-1 Tbsp.
- Butter- unsalted 1Tbsp
- Mixed olives – 1 cup pitted and rough chopped
- Anchovy Filets- 4
- Garlic- 2 cloves finely chopped
- Onion- 1 medium rough chopped
- Sun Dried Tomatoes- ¼ cup rough chopped (I used 6 dried)
- Lemon juice and zest- from one lemon
- Red or white wine- 1½ cup (any leftover wine will do)
- Honey- 2Tbsp
- Red Pepper Flake- 1 tsp.
- Chicken Thighs or leg and thigh quarters- 6 Bone-in with skin or 4 quarters with skin
- salt and black pepper to season the Chicken
- Heat pan on high flame, add 1 Tbsp olive oil and butter.
- If using dry sun-dried tomatoes as opposed to oil pack sun-dried tomatoes put rough chopped Sun-dried tomatoes in a bowl with the wine to soak and soften. A quick note if not using wine: chicken stock or water can be substituted but add a bit of extra lemon juice to the pot
- Sprinkle salt and pepper over Chicken Thighs to season and place in the hot oil skin side down. Brown skin until crispy, try not to fuss with them for at least 5 minutes. Remove from pan and hold to the side on a plate. The goal is to just crisp the skin, not cook the chicken.
- In the same pan bring the heat up to medium and add Onion and Garlic and stir. Allow to soften but don’t let the garlic burn.
- Turn flame to low and add Anchovies and stir until combined and allow to cook for about 2 minutes. Stir often to keep from scorching, the Anchovies will incorporate into the onions and garlic.
- Bring the heat back to medium high and add the Sun Dried Tomatoes, lemon juice plus zest , the wine, honey and red pepper flake. Stir together and allow to simmer and reduce for about 5 minutes.
- Use tongs to place chicken SKIN SIDE UP in the pan. Make sure the chicken is nestled into the liquid in one layer around the pan. Scatter rough chopped olives around the chicken and use a tight fitting lid before placing pan on middle rack of oven. Cook for 40 minutes and remove from the oven. Take lid off, stir a bit to loosen any stuck areas and place back in the oven with the lid off for about 10 minutes to allow the skin to brown.
- The chicken will be fork tender and the liquids will have reduced to a lovely sauce. Serve over rice or pasta.