Chili and citrus marinated olives

My adoration of olives was born in my teenage years, when visits to the food markets of Naples were heavily encouraged by my mother’s pleas to help her with the daily grocery shopping. Little did I know,  as I strolled unwillingly past vibrant market stalls overflowing with tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, that all the colors and sounds of Italy were making a profound impression on my senses.

As a gift for my participation in family food shopping expeditions, my mother bought me olives at the market in varying shades of green and purple (which by the way, I easily devoured by the handful). My favorites were the shriveled, dark oil-cured black olives she would buy to make her spicy “puttanesca” tomato sauce.

As travels through life progress, the everyday activities around my mother’s kitchen in Naples have had a constant influence on my cooking methods. A simple bowl of olives inevitably brings me back to those careless days in southern Italy. Food and memory somehow work that way.

The pungent combination of chilis, garlic and olives, so important to the Neapolitan kitchen, are my inspiration for the black oil-cured olives described below.

Make your own jar whatever the season, but especially in the summer and the fall !


  • 250 grams of oil-cured black olives . sometimes known as Moroccan dried olives
  • or choose
  • 250 grams of purple Gaeta or Kalamata olives
  • the zest of one lemon
  • one tablespoon of fennel seeds
  • one clove of garlic
  • one or two spicy red chilis
  • the zest of a small orange or tangerine
  • 25 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • a pinch of fennel seeds . optional

Hopefully where you live there is a shop or market stall that specializes in olives. If so, try to find the shriveled, oil-cured olives also known in Italy as “olive alla marocchina”  (which literally translates as Moroccan style olives). If these deliciously salty wonders are not available choose a purple, meaty olive with a seed, like Kalamata or Gaeta olives.

Scrub the lemon and orange with a brush under cold running water. Grate their peels with a zester, catching the thin lemon and orange curls into a small bowl. Peel the garlic clove; slice it paper-thin and set it aside. Wash the chilis of your choice (I like bird’s-eye chilis but these can be quite hot). Slice them lengthwise, removing the seeds if you prefer less spice rather than more.

Put the olives in a bowl. Drizzle a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and toss them until  the olives are equally coated. Add the sliced garlic, chilis and fennel seed (if using). Sprinkle as much citrus zest as your heart desires. Personally I use the zest of a whole lemon and just a spoon or so of orange zest for the amount of olives mentioned above. (If you have orange zest left over, just add it to your jar of honey for another day!)

Spoon the olives into a clean glass jar, or seek out a favorite bowl from your kitchen. If you can stand to wait, marinate the olives a day or two in a cool place before indulging in them in the late afternoon with a glass of wine or sparkling mineral water.

Just before serving, scatter the olives with a handful of fresh basil.

Suggested combinations

Add a few marinated olives to any kind salad  Give pizza some added saltiness and aroma by using them as a topping, or simply eat these olives for breakfast with some fresh tomatoes.


I promise to write and publish my version of one of my favorite pasta sauces, namely the “puttanesca” someday soon. Suffice it to say, the combination of melting anchovies, garlic, spicy chilis, black (oil-cured) olives and cappers are absolutely irresistible.




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