Ordinary olives? No, siree! Take your next antipasto spread from basic to brilliant with these warm sautéed olives with lemon and rosemary.
Simply sautéing whole olives in extra virgin olive oil and serving them warm brings out their most flavorful characteristics; with the addition of fresh lemon peel and sprigs of verdant rosemary, they are are oh so juicy and simply bursting with flavor.
I’ve always loved to snack on olives (the fact that I felt like I had my own personal olive brand possibly had something to do with that).
But as much as I love olives of all kinds, I have to say that warm olives are truly a revelation—the heat allows the true flavors of the olives to shine, while allowing the firm flesh to absorb even more flavor from the olive oil, lemon, and rosemary it’s cooked with.
It’s almost magical, how much better olives become by simply warming them.
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that olives cooked in olive oil somehow taste even more olive-y. But the olive oil paired with the heat somehow brings out their maximum olive-ness (I think Dupree would agree).
The warm olives are succulent, juicy, and bursting with flavor, fragranced with a few strips of lemon peel and fresh rosemary sprigs (though you could certainly mix up the flavors to your heart’s content).
I first learned to prepare olives like this back in 2006, when I celebrated my 21st birthday at a culinary-focused bed & breakfast near Napa called Casa Lana. It has since closed, which is unfortunate as we had a lovely time there cooking up all manner of delicious things.
Should it come as a surprise that a little less than a year later I decided to start a food blog? Probably not, my interests were certainly clear at that point.
This warm olive dish was one of the most memorable dishes from that trip, one that I’ve made again and again over the years even though I’ve long since misplaced the recipe printout (luckily this recipe is so simple you really don’t even need a written recipe for it).
We also did a similar preparation for marcona almonds (which are to regular almonds like Kalamata olives are to plain black olives… in other words, so much more amazing. And also: expensive.)
In fact, you could sauté olives and almonds together in the same skillet for an even more impressive appetizer, or do a separate pan of almonds with some different flavors if you want some variety.
Seriously, this recipe is so easy I hesitate to even call it a recipe, more of a preparation or serving suggestion than anything.
But sautéing olives in olive oil and serving them warm isn’t something people think to do (or even know is possible to do). So regardless of how simple this recipe is, I figured it was worth sharing, because again, the difference in flavor, texture, and all-around awesomeness between warm olives and room temperature ones is nothing short of a miracle.
How long to sauté the olives? Just until they are warmed through, basically. You don’t want to cook them too long until they start to soften (especially if you are like me and tend to prefer firmer-textured olives to mushy ones). For us the sweet spot (er, savory spot?) was about 4 minutes, but I’ll say 3 to 5 just to account for variances in stovetops and cookware.
Since you do want them served warm, wait until the very last minute to sauté them and then transfer immediately to your serving dish. They can be returned to the heat
Types of Olives
This recipe calls for stone-in olives with pits (they hold up better to the heat than pitted ones do). I don’t recommend using pitted olives for this recipe as they tend to break down and soften too much in a hot skillet. If you do opt for pitted olives, just cook them ever so briefly, a minute or two until they’re just warmed through, but before they have a chance to break down.
Purple olives like Kalamata and Niçoise, and green ones like Castelvetrano, Manzanilla, Cerignola are all great options here, but pretty much any kind of olive works, with the exception of mission olives (the basic black ones that come canned and pre-sliced for generic Americanized pizza and tacos… I could honestly live without them entirely).
You can either buy a few jars of different kinds of olives (at least 2 or 3) and mix them together, or buy an Italian/Greek/Olive olive blend (I got a nice mix from the olive bar at Whole Foods).
You want olives that aren’t already marinated so the bold flavors of the lemon and rosemary come through and aren’t overpowered by other things. Also: skip the stuffed olives or save them for another day.
You want to use a good quality extra virgin olive oil here, something fragrant and fruity and a little bit peppery… the flavors of the olive oil will serve to enhance and bring out the inherent flavors of the olives.
If your olive oil comes from the same olive variety or region as the olives you’re using, even better—the flavors will meld together beautifully, like they were made for each other (or, from each other? I guess I should say). Something like an Italian castelvetrano or Greek kalamata, for example.
In a similar vein, if you’re unsure what to pair the olives with on your antipasto platter, look for cured meats and cheeses from a similar region of the world as your olives/olive oil and you’ll really look like you know your stuff. Accompanied with a tower of paper thin parchment crackers and some homemade red pepper jelly or fig jam and you have yourself one heck of a delicious party spread.
Include toothpicks or a small spoon for serving. And don’t forget to put a small bowl on the side of your serving dish for your guests to neatly dispose of their pits.
Ingredient Notes and Variations
Citrus flavors pair beautifully with the briny olives, both orange and lemon. I used Meyer lemon peel here, but you can also use regular lemons, oranges, or a mix of both. I took of wide strips of lemon peel using a vegetable peeler, but thinner ribbons of zest works as well.
Replace or supplement the rosemary with fresh thyme, oregano, sage, or other fresh herbs. While you can use dried herbs, I really prefer fresh in this case as the flavor is just so much brigher.
While I think the lemon and rosemary is perfectly simply, if you’re looking for a bit more flavor you can ddd a some thinly sliced fresh garlic, or even a pinch of red pepper flakes or a thinly sliced bird’s eye chili for a bit of heat.
Warm Sautéed Olives with Lemon & Rosemary
- 8 oz mixed olives, drained
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 strips lemon peel
- 2 sprigs rosemary, cut into pieces
- Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. It should coat the bottom of the skillet in an even layer, so use more or less as needed.
- Add olives, lemon peel and rosemary and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes or until olives are sizzling and heated through; rosemary and lemon should be softened but not falling apart.
- Transfer to a serving dish and serve immediately.